Papandreou’s embattled, but Berlusconi’s king of no confidence

Papandreou’s embattled, but Berlusconi’s king of no confidence

We’re only hours away from knowing whether Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou, caught between fuming European creditors and enraged Greek citizens, will survive a confidence vote (or "no confidence" vote, if you’re a glass-half-empty type). So far this year, the parliamentary motion, which enables legislatures to express whether they still have confidence in the appointed government, has felled the administrations of Canada’s Stephen Harper, Slovakia’s Iveta Radicova, and Slovenia’s Borut Pahor (The first ever victim? British Prime Minister Lord North in 1782.)

How these motions work varies from place to place (they’re particularly potent in multiparty systems), but the prospects facing Papandreou are pretty typical for countries that employ the measure. The Greek leader needs an absolute majority of 151 votes of confidence in Greece’s 300-seat parliament to survive, and his socialist party, Pasok, currently holds 152 seats (in other words, barring a revolt within his own party, which is possible, he might very well scrape through tonight’s vote). If Papandreou loses the vote, he will resign (the government "has to resign" if it doesn’t enjoy parliament’s confidence, according to the Greek parliament’s website). He’ll then either call for a general election or permit the major parties in the existing parliament to establish a coalition government or a technocrat-run transitional government. If Papandreou wins the vote, he may remain in power and possibly try to form a unity government with the largest opposition party, New Democracy.

Or, after all this buildup, Papandreou may resign even if he wins the confidence vote because of the heat he’s facing domestically and internationally (Papandreou’s grandfather resigned as prime minister in 1963 after surviving a confidence vote because he didn’t want to govern with pro-Communist politicians). Papandreou’s family has a "very strong exit culture, a code of how to leave without being discredited," Greek journalist Ilias Siakantaris told the BBC this morning.

Papandreou, who called earlier this week for a controversial referendum on Europe’s new bailout deal for Greece, only to later retract the plan, has already survived two confidence votes: one upon assuming power in 2009, as the constitution requires, and one in June after reshuffling his cabinet.

Still, even if Papandreou manages to squeak by again this evening, we shouldn’t forget that he isn’t the world’s wiliest confidence vote survivor. No, that title goes to Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi, who’s facing a confidence vote on Tuesday in connection with the debt-saddled country’s budget reform program. Since assuming power for a third time in 2008, Berlusconi has remarkably survived over 50 confidence votes (in Italy you need a simple majority rather than an absolute majority to win parliament’s confidence). How has he managed to do it? "His center-right coalition faces no serious challenge from the disjointed center-left," the Globe and Mail explains. "But the endless scandals and criticism of his economic stewardship as the debt crisis intensifies have cost him many allies within his coalition."

There is "no one else capable" of leading Italy, Berlusconi declared this week, according to the Italian newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore. Yes, nobody presides over dysfunction quite like Silvio Berlusconi.