Berlusconi claims his allies are pressing him to seek election again, hoping that Monti's painful austerity measures will win votes for the center-right.
Still polls say Berlusconi's party would drop to less than 15 percent of the next vote.
"He can't see himself leaving the stage," said Giovanni Orsina, a political science professor at Rome's LUISS university and author of "The Right After Berlusconi."
"He actually believes he is the best, that he can't be substituted," said Orsina.
But Orsina and others say Berlusconi's legal woes also play a role.
The government has drafted legislation making candidates who have been convicted of crimes ineligible to run for office.
Berlusconi is now appealing an October conviction for tax fraud for which he received a sentence of four years in prison. He is also standing trial on charges of having sex with an underage woman and using his office to cover it up with a verdict expected early next year. He has denied the charges.
Alfano insists the media mogul's party had no intention of sparking a crisis that could bring down the government.
"We didn't vote 'no' on the confidence votes," Alfano said Friday, explaining the party's abstention. He had earlier described the abstentions as a "clear signal" that Berlusconi's center-right forces "don't like the way the economy is going."
What he didn't acknowledge was that for the first time Berlusconi suffered several defections from faithful allies, including former Foreign Minister Franco Frattini.
The Monti government has several major legislative targets before his term ends, including passage of the budget, a law requiring a balanced budget and the abolition of a number of provinces to cut costs.
Monti's own political future is uncertain. He has sent out signals he would be available for another stint in the event no coalition succeeds in putting together a majority. He has also been mentioned as a possible successor to Napolitano, although the position of president is largely ceremonial.