Violent storms have caused widespread devastation across northern Italy in the past few days leaving at least six people dead and several others missing in a sea of mud and debris. Angry victims unleashed their fury against the mayor of Genoa, Marta Vincenzi, who was accused of failing to protect the northern port city, while the Po River was threatening to burst its banks in Turin late Sunday.
Several regions from Piedmont to Veneto were expected to be on high alert on Monday, schools and businesses have been forced to close and football games cancelled, only a week after the popular tourist region of Cinque Terre was shut down by heavy rains and mudslides.
As shaken communities were counting the cost of the ongoing disaster, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was counting votes — as he prepared for a crucial confidence vote in Parliament this week that could throw him out of office once and for all.
Pope Benedict XVI urged the faithful to pray for the flood victims, while the 75-year-old billionaire watched the unfolding tragedy on TV.
“It was terrible to stand by and watch the terrible flooding in Genoa on television,” Berlusconi said in a statement. “But words count for little. We need to try and ensure that this never happens again.”
The way things are going Berlusconi may not get the chance.
Two MPs, Alessio Bonciani and Ida D’Ippolito, resigned from his People of Freedom Party on Thursday and transferred their allegiance to the centrist Christian Democrats (UDC). Six other MPs from his party also published a letter demanding he broaden his coalition or resign.
Then late Sunday the prime minister suffered another blow when another MP from his party, former showgirl Gabriella Carlucci, said she was leaving to join her colleagues at the UDC.
“I changed my life and made huge family sacrifices because I believed in politics, but not for the kind that for some time has failed to concern itself with what is happening so dramatically,” Carlucci said in a statement. “I believe that a broader coalition is the only solution for saving the country.”
There are now reports that up to 20 MPs may abandon the prime minister’s party and all sorts of speculation about him being replaced by a broad-based coalition or a government led by a technocrat such as Mario Monti, a highly respected economist and former European Commissioner. His feisty coalition partner the Northern League keep toying with a call for early elections.
Last month Berlusconi survived a confidence vote in the lower house by 316 votes to 301, but if there is a walkout by many more disillusioned MPs fed up with his scandals and overall ineffectiveness, it could be enough to bring him down.
He told a political rally on Sunday he was confident he had the support to carry a majority on the unfinished 2010 budget bill that is due before parliament on Tuesday.
It seems unlikely that the opposition parties will use this particular legislation to effectively block supply and with officials expected from the European Commission and the International Monetary Fund to visit Rome in the next week the party titans may choose to hold their fire and save face or their “bella figura”.
But the pressure is mounting as Berlusconi is yet to reveal any tangible details of his structural reforms beyond vague promises of asset sell-offs, pension reform and tax breaks to boost employment.
The Group of 20 meeting left Italians questioning whether the European Central Bank, IMF and European Commission are now running the country and the financial markets still need a lot of convincing that Berlusconi has any kind of commitment to structural reform and cutting the country’s ballooning debt.
As she watched the rain flood the streets of Turin late Sunday, one young mother of two put it to me this way: “I am disappointed with everything that Berlusconi says or does, and that goes for the reforms too. He has no credibility in any way whatsoever.”