Silvio Berlusconi Makes U-Turn, Supports Italian Prime Minister

Silvio Berlusconi
Silvio Berlusconi
 Getty Images

ROME – Apparently poised to fail in his attempt to make Italy's government collapse, billionaire media tycoon Silvio Berlusconi abruptly changed course Wednesday and ended up supporting the current coalition government.

With parliament scheduled to vote Friday on whether or not to strip Berlusconi of his Senate seat after August's conviction for false accounting and tax fraud, he had made a bid to take the government down with him. On Monday, he dramatically ordered five government ministers from his party to quit, forcing Italian premiere Enrico Letta to call for Wednesday's confidence vote.

Four of the five ministers expressed disapproval with Berlusconi's orders though, and as Wednesday's vote approached at least two-dozen Berlusconi allies in parliament said they would switch sides and support Letta. With the writing on the wall, Berlusconi surprised observers by changing tact for what he said was the good of the country.

"Italy needs a government to pursue institutional and structural reforms, and so we have decided to vote for the confidence motion," Berlusconi announced.

Berlusconi said his orders Monday came because Letta did not support a package of economic reforms Berlusconi had backed. There was no immediate indication that Letta had changed his view on those reforms, but investors nonetheless applauded the averted crisis. The Italian Stock Exchange's blue chip index surged on the news. Berlusconi's own Mediaset has seen its shares rise 6 percent since Monday's drop below €3.00 for the first time in three months.

But analysts said the crisis was not yet over. Berlusconi's support of Letta means the government will continue to rely on Berlusconi's support to pass legislation, even as parliament is set to vote on whether or not to take away Berlusconi's Senate seat, though there has been some speculation that the vote could be delayed as part of a quid pro quo in return for Berlusconi's support Wednesday.

Twitter: @EricJLyman

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