EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS - Derided by the opposition as a "laughing stock abroad," Italy's Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, narrowly survived a confidence vote on Tuesday (14 December) amid high drama both inside parliament and on the streets of Rome.
Mr Berlusconi won by 314 votes to 311 in the lower house and by 162 to 135 in the senate.
Speaking on TV after the day's events, Mr Berlusconi said "I am calm, just as I have always been," and noted that German Chancellor Angela Merkel and US President Barack Obama also rule without a parliamentary majority.
The result has prompted speculation that he will reshuffle his cabinet and invite more small parties to join his coalition or call snap elections in early 2011. Financial markets matched Mr Berlusconi's calm however, with Italian bonds maintaing their spread vis-a-vis German bunds and with shares in one of the prime minister's biggest companies, Mediaset, gaining 3.3 percent.
The confidence vote came after Mr Berlusconi's long-term alliance with self-described 'post-fascist' politician Gianfranco Fini unravelled in recent months following a stream of fresh allegations about high-level corruption and the 74-year-old leader's sex parties - including an obscure after-dinner sex game called "bunga bunga" - with under-age girls.
The debate in the lower house saw leading opposition MP Antonio Di Pietro yell at Mr Berlusconi: "Your papier mache empire is over, you're at the end of the line. Hand yourself over to the judiciary and stand trial like any other Noriega [the notorious Panamanian leader jailed in France]. The sooner you get out of here, the better. This has become a banana republic ... Go! Go and hide yourself in the Bahamas!"
A scuffle broke out after another anti-Berlusconi deputy called the pro-Berlusconi MP Catia Polidori a "whore."
Three heavily-pregnant anti-Berlusconi deputies came to cast their ballots amid applause, one arriving by ambulance and a second in a wheelchair.
Meanwhile, three other deputies whose ballots sealed the result failed to appear at the first summons for the vote, raising tension to fever pitch, but arrived after the second summons to save the prime minister at the last minute. Mr Di Pietro has suggested that they had been bribed.
On the streets of Rome, some 100,000 people joined an anti-government protest that brought together students unhappy over a university reform bill, trade unionists angry at crisis-related cuts, and people made homeless by the 2009 L'Aquilla earthquake.
The protesters raised barricades and lit fires in Rome's top shopping street, the Via del Corso, and at iconic tourist sites, such as the Piazza del Popolo. Around 100 people were injured and 40 arrested, with police firing tear gas under a barrage of bottles, smoke bombs and manure. Small-scale protests also erupted in Sicily, Turin and Venice.
Speaking to Bloomberg on Wednesday, Beppe Severgnini an Italian comic and the author of a new book on Mr Berlusconi entitled Italy's Gut Instincts, gave his opinion on how the prime minister has managed to hold on to power against all odds.
"He adores his kids, talks about his mamma, knows his football, makes money, loves new homes, hates rules, tells jokes, swears a bit, adores women. Don't you think that that applies to many Italians you and I know?" Mr Severgnini said.
"Accountability and consistency are not words that are easily translated into Italian ... He extols the church in the morning, the family in the afternoon, and brings girlfriends home in the evening. The Italian left keeps telling us what to do. Berlusconi forgives us for what we've done."