Italian parliament standoff adds to Berlusconi’s woes

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ROME – One minister tells parliament’s speaker to “go screw yourself”, another hurls his electronic ID card at opposition benches and a coalition legislator calls a wheelchair-bound colleague “stupid cripple”. Even by Italian standards, such angry scenes have raised fresh questions about how long Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s government can survive and whether the only solution to a parliamentary paralysis is early elections.
“Parliament is in chaos. The president is alarmed,” ran the headline in La Repubblica, echoing widespread concern in the media about how Italy can cope with a legislative block when it also has the triple crises of debt, immigration and Libya. President Giorgio Napolitano took the unprecedented step on Thursday night of calling parliamentary leaders from major parties on the carpet to read them the riot act.
He told them the behaviour was “intolerable” and reminded them he has the power to dissolve parliament and call elections — two years early — if he felt the move, albeit drastic, would be for the good of the country, media reports said. “Never before has a president had to call parliamentary leaders to the palace, line them up like school boys and wag his finger at them,” political commentator Michele Ainis wrote in the Corriere della Sera.
“Let’s face it. Our parliamentary democracy has never been so fragile.” The poisonous exchanges this week took place as Berlusconi’s centre-right government struggled to press ahead in parliament with a controversial package of judicial reforms that critics say are tailor-made to help him avoid lawsuits against him. On Thursday, the coalition lost a procedural vote on part of the judicial package.
They blamed the defeat on parliamentary speaker Gianfranco Fini, saying he stopped the vote before ministers who were outside parliament could arrive. They accuse Fini, a former ally who left to form his own party after a highly public spat with Berlusconi last year, of not being impartial and have demanded his resignation.