Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta won a confidence vote in his government by a wide margin Wednesday, after former premier Silvio Berlusconi performed a humiliating U-turn on plans to bring down the ruling grand coalition.
Berlusconi said on Wednesday that having listened to Letta\’s speech promising tax cuts and economic and judicial reform, "we have decided, not without some internal strife, to support the government."
His words, greeted by widespread surprise, appear to put an end to the political crisis that began after Berlusconi ordered five of his ministers on Saturday to withdraw from the cabinet.
In the event he won easily: the Senate voted 235 to 70 in favour of the government.
Several key figures from the People of Freedom party (PDL) had broken ranks with him after that move. A letter doing the rounds in the Senate just before Berlusconi spoke had 23 signatures of PDL senators willing to defy their leader, according to AFP news agency.
Together with votes from four rebels of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, this would have been sufficient for Letta to win a majority even without Berlusconi\’s support.
"Italians are crying out that they cannot take any more blood in the arena, with politicians who slit each other\’s throats and then nothing changes," said Letta.
Berlusconi had only on Tuesday rallied his supporters to vote against the government.
Berlusconi dominated Italian politics for nearly two decades before resigning in November 2011, in the midst of a storm over the failing economy.
Despite legal woes and sex scandals, the 77-year-old billionaire has served as prime minister three times.
He was ousted from power in 2011, but nearly came back again earlier this year after an effective election campaign won him almost a third of the vote.
But recently it appears that his problems have begun to catch up with him.
He has been convicted for tax fraud – for which he will have to serve a one-year sentence, probably under house arrest or via community service because of his age.
He has also been sentenced to seven years in jail for paying for sex with 17-year-old prostitute Karima El-Mahroug, known as "Ruby the Heart Stealer", and for abuse of office. He is appealing against the verdict.