ROME – ROME (AP) — Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi on Friday warned coalition allies who recently split with him to back him in Parliament or prepare for elections as soon as December.
While it is up to Italy's president, as head of state, and not the premier to call early elections, Berlusconi indicated after a daylong huddle with his allies at his Rome residence that he would quit if the allies won't back him on key legislation.
Elections aren't due until spring 2013. But earlier this month, some loyalists to Berlusconi's longtime center-right ally, Gianfranco Fini, refused to back Berlusconi on an opposition censure motion in the Chamber of Deputies.
Berlusconi told reporters that unless lawmakers who were part of his victory coalition in 2008 elections commit their support to him, a quick return to the polls will be the consequence.
"I believe there would be no other solution for the good of the country but to turn to the voters" in early elections, he said.
He said that any election date later than December "would be negative for the country," Berlusconi said, professing confidence in the voters' judgment.
"If there were elections soon, we'd get great results," with his coalition garnering "absolutely more than 50 percent," Berlusconi predicted.
There was no immediate reaction from Fini, the president of the Chamber of Deputies who has been bickering with Berlusconi for months as he seeks to raise his own political profile.
Berlusconi's main ally has proven to be the Northern League, an anti-immigrant, regional movement led by Umberto Bossi, the firebrand politician who brought down the premier's first government, in 1994.
Fini's deputies formed their own breakaway group in Parliament, potentially depriving Berlusconi's coalition of a majority in the Chamber of Deputies and showing the nation that the premier's grip on power was loosening. But Fini has insisted they would vote with the government on plank issues like justice reform.
Fini's followers would have to decide if they want to risk being punished by voters for helping bring an early end to Berlusconi's government while the country tries to ride out an economic crisis.
Berlusconi has been pressing for reform of the justice system which he has long blamed for the several criminal probes against his business dealings as a billionaire media mogul.
Bossi is pushing for laws to give more powers to regions, including tax reforms that would allow his affluent northeastern Italian base keep a greater share of tax revenues instead of giving most of it to the central government in Rome.
Lately, Fini has had his own headache, following revelations that the brother of his companion is renting a posh Monte Carlo apartment that had originally been property of his National Alliance right-wing party but later sold to an offshore company.