After days of tense debate over urgent economic reforms, Italian Prime Minister Lamberto Dini narrowly won a confidence vote in Parliament on Thursday, ensuring the immediate future for his technicians government.
Despite fierce opposition from former and would-be Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and right-wing supporters, the chamber also approved Dini's austerity budget aimed at reducing Italy's dangerous $82-billion public deficit.
With 625 of 630 deputies voting, the apolitical Dini won the make-or-break confidence measure in the lower house 315 to 309, with one abstention.
Later, the budget itself was approved by a vote of 315 for, 303 against.
"Good sense has won," Dini said after the vote.
Support for Dini, a former central banker, from the political center and left, including former Communists, carried the day for him.
Berlusconi's Forza Italia (Go, Italy) led the opposition, joined by Alleanza Nazionale (National Alliance), heirs of Italy's Fascist Party, under Gianfranco Fini. Both parties demand immediate elections, which Dini, after two months in power, is unwilling to promise until after he completes the reforms he said he would see through.
In the heated parliamentary debate over government calls for tax increases and state spending reductions, Dini saw his budget undercut by continuous heckling from Berlusconi's side of the chamber.
Dini decided early this week to risk calling for Thursday's confidence vote, which would either bolster the reforms or force his resignation. It was a necessary move, he said, "for the Italian economy and the future of the entire nation."
Dini, an accomplished economist, banker and treasury minister in Silvio Berlusconi's seven-month government last year, came to power as a technical premier in January.
His Cabinet of nonpolitical experts is committed to economic and electoral reforms before scheduling new elections; Dini saw as his first priority reducing Italy's enormous public debt.
The economic reforms aim at putting $12 billion into state coffers, mainly through a higher value-added tax, an increase in gasoline prices and less public spending. Future plans include a radical reform of the pension system, a move that will be hammered out among unions, industrialists and government ministers.
The week of bitter debate in Parliament culminated in the noisy, fractious session of the last two days, with right-wing opposition parties demanding amendments to the budget but above all calling for elections in June.
While politicians bickered, the Italian lira dropped to an all-time low against the German mark, which was quoted at a little higher than 1,200 lire Thursday morning.
The Milan stock market also tumbled but recovered slightly after the confidence vote.