Members of Silvio Berlusconi's center-right party on Sunday openly warned they would bring down the government if their center-left coalition allies voted next month to expel the former prime minister from parliament.
Relations between Berlusconi's People of Freedom (PDL) party and Prime Minister Enrico Letta's Democratic Party (PD) are close to breaking point ahead of the vote in the Senate on whether to expel the 76-year-old over his tax fraud conviction.
"Early elections will be inevitable if the PD votes to remove Berlusconi and in the case that President (Giorgio) Napolitano decides that no other viable majorities exist," PDL Senator Sandro Bondi told Corriere della Sera after a party summit on Saturday.
Bondi, a close ally of Berlusconi, said the PDL had agreed at the meeting to withdraw their ministers from the government if the billionaire loses his place as a senator, and that they were ready to return to elections with the media mogul as their prime ministerial candidate.
Letta has warned that the collapse of the government would undermine a nascent economy recovery as Italy tries to emerge from its longest post-war recession. He has nevertheless expressed confidence the coalition's problems can be overcome.