(AP) Premier Enrico Letta was putting his government's survival to confidence votes in Parliament on Wednesday amid a divisive split in Silvio Berlusconi's party that could at least temporarily save his fragile ruling coalition.
Letta warned Senators that Italy "runs a risk, a fatal risk" depending on the choices they make. It was a last-ditch attempt to persuade enough lawmakers to defy Berlusconi's call to bring down the government. The key vote is in the Senate, where Berlusconi's allies have a narrow majority.
But Berlusconi's People of Freedom party has been thrown into chaos, with several lawmakers and his closest ally and political heir Angelino Alfano openly defying him and saying they would support the government.
Berlusconi demanded Alfano and his four other ministers quit Letta's government ahead of a vote Friday that could strip the former premier of his Senate seat following his tax fraud conviction and four-year prison sentence.
A law passed in 2012 says anyone receiving sentences longer than two years cannot hold public office for six years. Berlusconi has challenged the law's constitutionality and has accused judges who handed down the sentence of trying to eliminate him from Italy's political life.
The unusual defiance of Berlusconi by his stalwart allies could signal that the three-time former premier's influence is seriously eroding following his legal woes. But the 77-year-old billionaire media mogul has endured numerous political setbacks in the past, only to re-emerge strong.
"Berlusconi has nine lives and we can't exclude a tenth," leading daily Corriere della Sera wrote on its front page Wednesday. "He knows the art of seducing senators and still has enough wiggle room for a turnabout at the last minute."