ROME -- In a sign of Italy's political fragility, the coalition government of Prime Minister Enrico Letta came under heavy strain on Wednesday, when the main center-right party of the former prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, called for a timeout from Parliament to discuss an impending court ruling for Mr. Berlusconi and its political consequences.
Amid protests from the opposition Five Star Movement, almost all activity stopped in both houses of Parliament for a day.
Lawmakers from the People of Liberty party, known as the P.D.L., asked for time for consultation, the day after Italy's highest court scheduled a hearing on July 30 for Mr. Berlusconi's final appeal in a tax fraud case. This date came months earlier than expected. The decision by the court, motivated by the need to prevent the statute of limitations from expiring on one of the charges facing the former prime minister, caused a political uproar.
A definitive conviction would result in a five-year ban from public office for Mr. Berlusconi. If the high court's decision is upheld by the Court of Cassation and by Parliament, it would likely result in a political earthquake for the left-right coalition. Until that or other court decisions are made, the government is likely to remain frail, but stable, analysts say.
"This government has always been hanging by many threads, Berlusconi's several trials, the tensions within the P.D.L. and also within the Democratic Party, where many don't like to govern with the P.D.L.," said Gianfranco Pasquino, a political science professor at the School of Advanced International Studies at John Hopkins University in Bologna. "But I doubt that any of this will have a serious impact on the government."
While senators from the anti-establishment Five Star Movement took off their jackets and ties in protest, fellow party members in the lower house walked out on Wednesday afternoon to oppose against the parliamentary suspension.
"We sit in Parliament to find solutions to the policies of the last 20 years," Roberta Lombardi, a member of Parliament from the Five Star Movement, said, sitting in the square adjacent to Parliament. "Does the world need to stop because the court set a hearing for citizen Berlusconi?"
Faced with record unemployment and a public debt of more than €2 billion, or $2.6 billion, the grand coalition was already under pressure for the slow pace of its reforms. The "politics of small steps," as Mr. Letta's action has been described, has postponed some crucial decisions until the fall and has been struggling to ease the tax burden on citizens.
"This government is aware of being very exposed -- it's one of the drawbacks of any coalition government, and this case certainly did not make it stronger," said Mr. Pasquino, the professor. "It will be stronger only if its policies lower unemployment and boost the economy."
On Tuesday, the ratings agency Standard & Poor's downgraded Italy's sovereign credit rating to just two notches above junk, because of concerns about the economy. The International Monetary Fund expects Italy's growth to decrease by 1.8 percent this year, before slightly recovering in 2014.
Mr. Berlusconi's legal woes have been widely covered in the news and have cluttered Italy's political life in recent months, as several trials overlapped. Last month, he was sentenced to seven years in jail for paying for sex with an underage nightclub dancer and for abusing his powers to try to cover it up.
The conviction is not definitive until two appeals are made. Every time a court condemns Mr. Berlusconi, his lawmakers urge supporters to take to the streets to protest against the "leftist magistrates," and some of these demonstrators have been calling for early elections.
However, the prime minister said Tuesday night on television that the government would survive whatever happened. Above all, President Giorgio Napolitano is opposed to early elections while Italy is experiencing its worst postwar recession and before Parliament makes changes to election laws.
"In a certain, convoluted way, what happened today strengthened the reason to support the government," said Sergio Fabbrini, director of the school of government at Luiss Guido Carli University in Rome. "As the two main parties in Italy are divided and too weak, if taken alone, none of them is capable of acting as an alternative to the current government."
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.