ROME, Sept. 28 -- Italian Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Angelino Alfano said Saturday that the ministers from former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's center-right People of Freedom (PdL) party were to "resign" from the government, paving the way for a political crisis in the recession-plagued country.
Alfano said all five ministers in the PdL party, including himself, were resigning. The announcement came after Berlusconi called Prime Minister Enrico Letta's request for a parliamentary confidence vote in his left-right coalition next week "unacceptable."
The three-time prime minister and media tycoon blamed the government for putting on ice the postponement of a hike in the value added tax (VAT) scheduled to take effect Tuesday. Causing VAT to increase was a "grave violation of the pacts that this government is founded on," Berlusconi said.
Upholding Berlusconi's tax fraud conviction in August, the first guilty verdict to be confirmed on appeal in two decades of fighting legal cases underlined the breakdown between PdL and Letta's center-left Democratic Party (PD). The two traditional rivals were forced together by February's deadlocked election.
The fragile coalition has been in peril since center-right lawmakers threatened to resign en masse if the Senate on Oct. 4 votes to eject their leader from the upper house, based on a 2012 anti-corruption law.
Letta is now expected to go before parliament next week to seek support to continue in office. "A clarification must take place in parliament in the light of the sun and in front of citizens," he was quoted as saying by ANSA news agency.
Local analysts noted that if the prime minister, who has a majority in the lower house, manages to secure the support of a few dozen senators among the PdL rebels or opposition parties including the anti-establishment Five-Star Movement (M5S), he could form a new coalition.
Otherwise Italian President Giorgio Napolitano, who has repeatedly warned against new elections while the country is still mired in recession, would have to either call new voting or try to oversee the formation of a new government.
Letta highlighted in a statement late on Saturday that the freeze of postponement of VAT hike "was agreed upon by PdL and PD." He added that Berlusconi's move was an attempt to "turn the tables in his favor" over "facts that are under the eyes of everybody," namely "his personal affairs."
Like many observers, the editor of daily newspaper Il Fatto Quotidiano, Antonio Padellaro, defined the announcement of resignation as an "unprecedented fact in Europe."
"A group of ministers who sworn in front of the Italian president acted like waiters, executing the orders of their master, a man who does not want to obey the law," he told Rai state television.
Major Italian business organizations have strongly called for government stability, saying that a political crisis would reignite international investors' worries about the country's economic reliability just as it struggles to emerge from its longest recession in over 20 years.
"A government crisis now would cause extremely grave damage to Italy, and risks throwing it back into a downward negative spiral, with major consequences for families and companies," Italy's banking association, insurance association and industrial confederation said in a recent joint statement.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) forecast last week that the Mediterranean country will have a deficit-to-gross domestic product (GDP) ratio of 3.2 percent this year, above both the 3-percent deficit threshold allowed by the European Union (EU) and the 3.1-percent forecast estimated by the country.