Confidence Vote On Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi Could Be Tight

In his nearly two decades at center stage in Italian politics, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has played an at times tragic, at times comic, but invariably dramatic role. And so it is fitting that his career comes down to a theatrically tight confidence vote in the Italian Parliament on Tuesday.

""It is madness to initiate a crisis without any foreseeable solutions,"" Berlusconi, 74, said in a passionate plea to the Italian Senate on Monday morning ahead of the Tuesday reckoning, which Italians have taken to calling ""B-Day.""

In his address, Berlusconi argued that the nation's precarious economic situation made this an inopportune moment for a government collapse and for new elections. His enemies agree that new elections might be madness, but for entirely different reasons.

""Elections at this point for Italians and for the country would be dangerous,"" said Walter Veltroni, a former mayor of Rome who lost to Berlusconi in the 2008 general election. ""Don't ever underestimate him.""

Berlusconi's opponents know full well that winning elections is the media mogul's specialty. Even though he has suffered a steady stream of sex scandals, international gaffes and an appearance in the WikiLeaks cables as a ""feckless, vain and ineffective leader,"" Tuesday's vote brings an enormous opportunity for Berlusconi, one of Europe's most accomplished escape artists.

A defeat in Parliament would force his resignation and prompt Italian President Giorgio Napolitano to either appoint a temporary government or call for new elections. Berlusconi's political opponents, both the fractious left and the former allies in the right who spurred the current crisis, are not at full strength. So they are wary of taking on a billionaire who controls three major television networks, a slew of newspapers and magazines and has a total war approach to campaigning. "