Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi ruled out on Friday the possibility of early elections, dismissing a row with his main conservative ally and a corruption scandal that has tainted his cabinet.
Gianfranco Fini, the co-founder of Berlusconi's People of Freedom party, publicly clashed with the 73-year-old premier last month, accusing him of stifling internal debate and giving too much power to the separatist Northern League -- the other partner in the ruling coalition.
The clash, together with a high-profile corruption probe which has forced the industry minister to resign, has fuelled speculation that Berlusconi's government may not last long.
The outspoken head of the Northern League, Umberto Bossi, has said he thinks the government is doomed, and threatened to quit the coalition unless a reform to devolve more power to the regions -- opposed by Fini -- is passed quickly.
In an interview for a book due to hit the stands later this month, Berlusconi said he was "totally convinced" that his administration would see through its full term, which ends in 2013.
"There is no chance of early elections," he said in the interview, excerpts of which were released on Friday.
"The government will carry on with its programme, supported by a strong and united majority both in the Senate and in the lower house of parliament," he said.
He added that the row with Fini, who is also the speaker of the lower house and has the backing of around 50 lawmakers, would have "zero" impact on the stability of his executive -- even though it could rob it of its parliamentary majority.
An opinion poll this week showed Berlusconi's popularity falling to 41 percent -- a record low in his two-year-old government -- just as his cabinet prepares an austerity budget to stave off the risk of contagion from Greece's debt crisis.
His government also faces mounting opposition over a draft bill that would restrict the use of wiretaps by magistrates and slap heavy fines and even jail terms on journalists who publish transcripts.
The bill had been languishing in parliament for months, but it was dusted off after a widening corruption scandal into public works contracts implicated some of Berlusconi's closest aides and was splashed on the front pages of Italian newspapers.
In another interview for the same book, Berlusconi dismissed comparisons with the 1990s "Bribesville" probe that wiped out a generation of Italian politicians, saying the current scandal involved "individual, isolated cases that have nothing to do with the government's activities."
ReutersLast Mod: 22 Mayıs 2010, 10:20