Rome–Premier Silvio Berlusconi won back-to-back votes of confidence in the Italian parliament Tuesday, but he was left with a razor-thin majority that will make it hard for him to govern effectively.
In the second and most dramatic of the tests, Berlusconi survived a no-confidence motion in the lower house by just three votes. The tense session was briefly interrupted as lawmakers pushed and shoved each other, while outside parliament protesters hurling firecrackers, eggs and paint scuffled with police.
Earlier in the day, Berlusconi had secured a more comfortable victory in a confidence vote at the Senate.
The votes were called following a spate of sex scandals and a breakup with one-time close ally Gianfranco Fini, who had urged Berlusconi to resign and had hoped to bring him down through the no-confidence motion.
The outcome then marked a victory for Berlusconi over the man who had become his most bitter rival. By contrast, it dealt a blow to Fini's ambitions to replace Berlusconi as conservative leader, at least in the short term.
Ironically, it was Fini in his capacity as speaker of the lower house who announced the result: 314-311 in favor of the government. Applause broke out and Fini quickly ended the session without comment.
However, the political future remains uncertain as Berlusconi can no longer count on a solid majority in parliament. Tuesday's victory was obtained thanks to the votes of a handful of swing lawmakers who changed their minds at the last minute.
Pierluigi Bersani, the leader of the opposition Democratic Party, said during the debate right before the vote that even if Berlusconi won, it would only be a "Pyrrhic victory."
The 74-year-old Berlusconi has been weakened by the breakup with Fini, allegations he partied with prostitutes and long-standing criticism that he has used his three terms as premier to pass laws to help shield him from his legal woes.
Scores of anti-Berlusconi protesters marched in cities across the country to coincide with the votes: in Palermo, students blocked the train station and occupied the airport; in Turin thousands marched through the city center, news reports said.