Silvio Berlusconi Forces Italian Government Crisis

Silvio Berlusconi

Italian media speculated that the political maneuver could be part of yet another flirtation with a political comeback for the billionaire tycoon.

ROME – Italian billionaire media tycoon Silvio Berlusconi on Thursday cast the future of Italy’s technocratic government into doubt, as members of the political party he founded in Italy’s Senate walked out on a key confidence vote.

By withholding its support for a package of economic reform measures, Berlusconi’s People of Liberty party put Italy’s government on the brink of collapse barely a year after Berlusconi himself resigned as prime minister amid personal and legal scandals and fears the country was about to become a victim of the European debt crisis.

STORY: Silvio Berlusconi Again Mulls Political Run As Italian Media Empire Crumbles

After Berlusconi’s resignation 13 months ago, Italian President Giorgio Napolitano appointed former European commissioner Mario Monti as the head of a temporary technocrat government charged with pushing through difficult reforms as it finished out the government’s term, set to conclude in March 2013.

But many of Monti’s reforms, which included increasing taxes, cutting back on government services, and reducing tax evasion, have proved unpopular. In recent weeks, Monti has faced regular criticism from the 76-year-old Berlusconi, who has toyed with the idea of returning to the political area for several months.

Some Italian media speculated that Berlusconi could have instructed members of his People of Liberty party to walk out on the vote as part of a political plan for Berlusconi to attempt to become prime minister again -- Berlusconi might have felt that snap elections would play to his strengths more than waiting for the scheduled vote in March.

For his part, Napolitano, the president, tried to calm jittery markets by saying he would personally intervene to avoid a political crisis.

STORY: Italy's Berlusconi Down But Not Out, Threatens to Make Government Collapse

Aside from his on-again, off-again plans to seek political office, Berlusconi has made headlines in recent weeks after he was sentenced to four years in jail for tax evasion in connection with the Mediaset television and cinema giant he founded. He is also on trial for corruption of power and for paying an underage girl for sex.

Berlusconi, 76, is one of Europe’s richest media tycoons, with holdings that include three national television networks in Italy and one in Spain, a major film production and distribution house, he country’s largest ad buying company, and various print media.