I still control parliament, insists Berlusconi
Silvio Berlusconi insisted yesterday that, despite defections from his shaky coalition, he still commands enough support to enact urgently needed measures to save Italy from financial disaster.
"We maintain that there are no alternatives to our government until 2013" when elections are due, the Italian prime minister said.
Mr Berlusconi was defying increasingly loud calls to either broaden his government's forces by bringing in opposition centrists or to step down so that an interim government could be appointed ahead of early elections.
Mr Berlusconi dismissed both scenarios as offensive to the electorate that had resoundingly voted for him in the 2008 elections.
An interim government "with a puppet as premier" was unacceptable, he said.
This week brings the first in a string of votes in parliament on reforms and other stopgap measures to get the country's finances in order and revive the dormant economy.
The Italian premier insisted that his latest sounding out of his allies in parliament had "verified that we have the numbers" to pass the measures. But should the government fall short, early elections would be the only alternative.
Still, "we don't want elections. We want to govern", Mr Berlusconi said.
There is growing concern that he no longer commands enough loyalty to ensure the quick passage of measures needed to avoid a dramatic debt crisis.
During an economic summit in France last week, Mr Berlusconi asked the IMF to monitor the country's reform efforts, a humiliating step for the eurozone's third-largest economy.
If the Italian premier loses upcoming votes on the measures, the Italian president could intervene and rule that it is time for a new government.