March 8, 2015 / 6:33 PM / in 3 years

Struggling Berlusconi confirms break with Renzi over reforms

ROME (Reuters) - Italy’s four-time ex-Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi confirmed on Sunday his party would not support the government’s proposed constitutional reforms as he sought to hold his party together and reclaim his leadership of the center-right.

Forza Italia leader Silvio Berlusconi gestures as he speaks during a party rally in Milan May 23, 2014. REUTERS/Alessandro Garofalo

On Tuesday the lower house of parliament, where Prime Minister Matteo Renzi commands an ample majority, is scheduled to vote on a proposal to shrink the Senate and remove its power to block laws.

The measure, aimed at streamlining the lawmaking process and creating more stable governments, is one of two main reforms Berlusconi had been supporting. The other was an overhaul of the electoral law.

“We will vote against this reform on Tuesday and the mess it makes of the Senate,” Berlusconi said, speaking to members of his Forza Italia party in Bari in the southern region of Puglia.

“I hope that we all can give up something in the name of the unity of the center-right,” he said. “No one can think of being able to win alone.”

Berlusconi said last month the reform pact was dead when Renzi backed constitutional judge Sergio Mattarella to become the country’s new president, refusing to concede to Berlusconi’s demands for another candidate.

But some in his party have been trying to convince him to reconsider his position and seal a new agreement with Renzi, who may still need some Forza Italia votes to pass the reforms in the Senate, where Renzi has a narrow majority.

Sunday’s comments are designed to reassure hardliners in Berlusconi’s party and underpin an electoral pact with the Northern League, an opposition party that opposes the reforms and which has surged past Forza Italia in the polls since Berlusconi agreed to cooperate with Renzi last year.

The statement also comes as the 78-year-old Berlusconi finishes his last day of community service for a tax fraud conviction, leaving him free to campaign for his party in important local and regional elections in May even though he is still forbidden by law from holding office.

“Berlusconi is back in play full time without the noose of an absurd sentence that limited his movements,” Forza Italia lawmaker Simone Furlan said in a statement.

But the billionaire media magnate still faces opposition from those in his party who are worried that abandoning reforms and embracing the stridently right-wing Northern League will lead to the loss of moderate voters to Renzi’s Democratic Party.

Berlusconi’s legal troubles also are not over. On Tuesday the country’s highest appeals court is scheduled to rule on whether to uphold last year’s decision to acquit him on charges he had sex with an underage prostitute at “bunga bunga” parties.

Reporting by Steve Scherer; editing by Clelia Oziel

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