ROME (Reuters) - Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti's cabinet introduced new rules on Thursday to keep convicted criminals out of politics, as Silvio Berlusconi's scandal-ridden People of Freedom party withdrew its support for the government in parliament.
With national elections expected in the next few months, the measure is aimed at restoring credibility to a political system shaken by a series of scandals. Italy's audit court has estimated that corruption costs the state about 60 billion euros ($77.92 billion) per year.
The measure, which would apply to definitive convictions upheld by two appeals courts, was not the reason for Thursday's political tensions, People of Freedom (PDL) Secretary Angelino Alfano told reporters.
He said it was Monti's economic policy that prompted his party to withdraw its support in two confidence votes.
However Berlusconi's PDL party has been the hardest hit of the main parties by recent corruption probes, and the former premier himself has had a long battle with magistrates over the last 20 years.
In October, a PDL member of Lombardy's regional government was arrested on suspicion of buying votes from the Calabrian mob, a scandal that later forced the governor of the country's wealthiest region to call a vote three years before the end of his mandate.
A separate corruption scandal involving a PDL politician brought down the local government in Lazio, the region around the capital Rome.
The 76-year-old Berlusconi, who has repeatedly been tried for corruption and is currently facing three trials, will still be able to run for parliament - as he strongly hinted he would do on Wednesday - under the new rules because he has never been definitively convicted.
Under the new rules, anyone definitively convicted of serious crimes will not be allowed to run for all levels of public office for at least six years following conviction, and depending on the gravity of the crime, perhaps longer.
Italian media have estimated that as many as 20 members of the current parliament may not be able to run again because of previous convictions.
The measure will be reviewed by parliamentary commissions but because it was already approved as part of a broader anti-corruption law in October, it does not have to be voted on again.
($1 = 0.7700 euros)
(Reporting by Steve Scherer; Editing by Jon Hemming)