Rome: Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta won a late-Tuesday night confidence vote, securing a new majority less than 24 hours before the Senate is scheduled to decide whether to expel his ally-turned-rival, Silvio Berlusconi.

The Senate approved parliamentary amendments to Letta’s 2014 budget 171-135 in a vote that ended at 12.35am on Wednesday in Rome. While Letta’s support is down from the 233 senators he carried in his first confidence vote in April, the premier demonstrated he can govern without the backing of 77-year-old Berlusconi, who took his 62 senators into the opposition.

Letta, 47, is bracing his administration for the potential downfall of Berlusconi, a three-time premier and the most powerful politician of his generation. With the successful confidence vote, Letta cleared the first hurdle toward the passage of his budget. Still, internal divisions over Berlusconi’s fate continue to plague even this new, smaller majority.

“Numerically, it’s not stronger," Senator Andrea Augello said of the coalition after casting his ballot for the government. “But it’s more cohesive, more united."

New coalition

The new coalition reflects the parliamentary upheaval of last month when about a third of Berlusconi’s senators deserted the ex-premier and pledged support for Letta. Those defectors, led in the Senate by constitutional reforms minister Gaetano Quagliariello, ensured the success of the confidence vote by teaming up with Letta’s Democratic Party and Civic Choice, the group formerly led by ex-Premier Mario Monti.

The ballot on Berlusconi, set for Wednesday evening in Italy, is unlikely to threaten the government as it isn’t presented as a confidence vote. It may increase tensions within the new ruling alliance as it puts Quagliariello’s group, known as the New Center-Right, at odds with the Democratic Party, the biggest force in parliament.

The New Center-Right will temporarily stand with Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party to oppose the expulsion. They are likely to fail, according to commentators including Teneo Intelligence analyst Wolfango Piccoli, as the Democratic Party may have the numbers, with help from the opposition Five Star Movement and smaller parties, to vote Berlusconi out of office.BLOOMBERG

Chiara Vasarri and Alessandra Migliaccio in Rome contributed to this story.

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