Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi REUTERS

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi will face Tuesday a crucial vote on Italy's public accounts as the interest rate on Italian 10-year bonds hit a new high of 6.733 per cent.

Despite several defections from his party, Berlusconi remains adamant that he can survive another confidence vote, the 54th of his administration. "I want to look into the faces of those who are trying to betray me," he told the right-wing Libero newspaper.

Where and when the vote would be held remained unclear, however. Sources close to the prime minister told Italian media he will decide his future after learning the results of Tuesday's vote. If he does not have the numbers to support a confidence vote, then he will resign, according to the sources. Berlusconi's government needs at least 312 votes to keep its majority in parliament.

"If I have to die, it will be in the parliament," the premier reportedly said during an overnight meeting with leading figures of his party. He admitted his mistakes, but stubbornly refused to resign.

Tuesday's vote on 2010 public accounts is unusual in Italian history. Last month Berlusconi's government could not achieve a majority in parliament for the approval of a routine ballot. If the accounts are rejected again, no further economic reforms can be approved. The opposition will abstain instead of voting against.

The 75-year old media tycoon denied planning to quit on Monday. In a message update to his Facebook page, he said "the rumours of my resignation are groundless."

Claims that Berlusconi would quit surfaced Monday morning when two pro-government journalists reported the media tycoon was about to step down within hours. Berlusconi's leader in the lower house, Fabrizio Cicchitto, however denied that the prime minister was on his way out.

Earlier, Giuliano Ferrara, editor-in-chief of pro-government daily Il Foglio and a longtime Berlusconi confidante and loyalist, said in a video message: "That Silvio Berlusconi is about to resign is clear. It is a question of hours, some say of minutes."

Berlusconi apparently changed his mind after a lunch in Milan with his children by his first marriage, who hold key positions in his business empire, and Fedele Confalonieri, chairman of his Mediaset TV empire.

Franco Bechis, editor-in-chief of pro-government daily Libero, wrote on Twitter that Berlusconi would be challenging "even his own people on the text of the ECB letter". It refers to the missive Jean-Claude Trichet and Mario Draghi sent the Italian government in the summer, detailing the reforms they expected of it. Bechis had previously stated that the prime minister would have resigned on Monday night or Tuesday morning.

Berlusconi is facing several defections by party rebels who are threating to oust the government in a backlash over its failure to adopt reforms. He has been meeting and telephoning potential defectors including Gabriella Carlucci, a former showgirl from his television shows, but they did not change their minds, according to reports.