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Compromise deal could end Italy political crisis, but obstacles still remain

11-12-2010 09:57 BJT

ROME, Nov. 11 (Xinhua) -- The latest Italian political crisis may have taken a big step toward resolving itself Thursday, after a set of closed-door meetings ended with Umberto Bossi, a key ally to embattled Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, saying the 74-year-old leader would agree to resign if allowed to pull together a new government majority.

The Italian press also reported that Berlusconi's allies offered to push through a new electoral reform law urged by former ally Gianfranco Fini, in return for Fini's support.

If the reports are true, it could mean that without even being on Italian soil Berlusconi may have again managed to dodge a crisis that could have removed him from power. Berlusconi is out of Italy at the Group of 20 summit in Seoul, capital of South Korea and is expected to return over the weekend.

But the developments do not address the wide gap between the interests of Bossi and Fini that originally triggered the crisis, and uncertainty at how the possible deal may work itself out leaves the possibility that the current government may limp along for months.

A year ago, Bossi and Fini were Berlusconi's top two allies. But the differing constituencies, styles, and priorities of the two men eventually forced Berlusconi to play favorites.

After Berlusconi began siding more often with Bossi earlier this year, Fini announced he was leaving the coalition, though he said he would decide whether to support the government on a case- by-case basis. On Sunday, Fini further raised the stakes, calling on Berlusconi to either change his governmental plan or resign from power.

Instead, the leading players appear to have brokered a compromise that, according to the Italian press, could see Berlusconi step down and reform a new government with significant support from Fini.

The new government would include a revamped electoral process that many commentators believe could make it easier for Fini to ascend to the prime minister's office at some future point by changing the way parliamentary representation is calculated.

The deal is not guaranteed. After Thursday's meetings, Fini only reiterated that he believed Berlusconi should still resign without mentioning a compromise plan.

And even while speculating that Berlusconi could indeed step down and a new government is formed, Bossi made no secret of his opposition to Fini and his allies returning to the government as a full partner.

If no deal is brokered, it remains unclear what will happen in the coming weeks and months. Fini could withdraw his support for the Berlusconi government at any time, resulting in a collapse of the government and a potential free for all as Berlusconi, Fini, and other political power brokers maneuver to form a new government.

But political commentators say that is increasingly unlikely, as the parliament moves toward debating the country's 2011 budget.

Italian law says the budget must be approved by parliament no later than Dec. 31. If the budget were not passed, it would create major problems for the Italian Stock Exchange, for Italian corporations and banks doing business abroad, and on the credit rating for Italian government bonds.

If the government survives that long with no deal, new elections could be in the cards. But political commentators say that is unlikely until at least March because that's when parliamentarians elected for the first time during the last elections, in 2008, will have accumulated enough time in office to qualify for lifetime pensions.

Another possibility is that Berlusconi could step down in favor of a non-partisan technical government that would stay in power only to push through an electoral reform package ahead of new elections.

Then, depending on the result of that vote, Berlusconi, Fini, or a centrist or center-left figure could be in position to create a new government coalition.

Editor:Jin Lin |Source: Xinhua

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