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Il Divorzo: It's final! PDF Print E-mail
Jul 31, 2010 at 04:47 PM


After months of very boring to- ing and fro-ing, the divorce between Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and his once principle ally, former Alleanza Nazionale chief Gianfranco Fini, currently Italy's Speaker of the House (presidente della Camera dei Deputati), now appears to be final and Italians, most of whom are understandably much more interested in a) their summer vacations, b) job opportunities and taxes in a struggling economy and 3) whether or not the national soccer team will ever recover from its embarrassing performance in South Africa, are now being told to worry about whether the government will fall or whether Berlusconi may call for early elections. If you read the papers, or listen to the TV news broadcasts, it would seem as if new elections or, at the very least, a cabinet re-shuffle, are inevitable. But are they? For although Silvio Berlusconi appears to be in a more vulnerable position than at any time since his party's victory at the polls in 2008, I wouldn't be counting him out any time soon. 

Thie first test of Berlusconi's strength will come tomorrow when the Chamber of Deputies will respond to a vote of no confidence called by the opposition which has asked for the resignation of Justice Ministry undersecretary Giacomo Caliendo who, like several other members of the Berlusconi cabinet, is under investigation, in his case for for possible involvement in an influence-peddling scandal. Fini's new party and several other centrist groups which together control 84 votes have decided to abstain, rather than face-off directly with Berlusconi. But should the vote of no confidence go againt the government, the Prime Minister may in fact decide that new elections are his best gambit. Or not.

Eithe way you look at it, it is hard not to have the impression that the news reports, while not entirely virtual, are to an extent fueled by the fact that Berlusconi-haters think (hope) the break with Fini may indeed weaken the TV-real estate magnate's center-right governing coalition. But let's not let wishful thinking get in the way of political reality. First of all, if new elections were to be held, there is a very good chance that Berlusconi would once again win the vote, although possibly with less of a margin than in 2008. Although his rating in the polls - most recently at about 40% - is at its lowest ever, he is still extremely popular here and, a master at electioneering, could well be swept back into power. Berlusconi's current term lasts until 2013 and the 73-year old recently said he has no plans to leave politics before that time.

Last week Berlusconi called on Fini to relinquish his Speaker's post, saying the latter's positions on a variety of issues were "absolutely incompatible with the founding principles" of the PDL (People of Liberty) coalition, which they formed together in 2007. He also accused him of political "treason". Fini has refused to resign and has now set up parliamentary groups for his new party, which is to be called Futuro e Libertà per l'Italia (Future and Freedom for Italy). Reportedly, 33 former Alleanza Nazionale MPS in the Camera dei Deputati will follow him, reducing Berlusconi's once vast majority to dangerous levels although his position will be much stronger in the Senate where, reportedly, only 10 PDL senators plan to defect. In both houses, Berlusconi can count on the unflagging support of the federalist Northern League but since his government has so far tended to rely on votes of confidence to get laws passed, he may soon find himself in trouble.

The break between the two men is the perhaps inevitable result of the political evolution of Gianfranco Fini, a story both interesting and paradoxical. Originally the heir to the leadership of the MSI, the neo-Fascist party that was set up in the 1946 by diehard Mussolini supporters, over the last 15 years Fini has gradually moved leftwards, that is towards the Italian center. In 1995, he convinced his followers to abolish the MSI and set up Allleanza Nazionale, a right of center but non-fascist party that gradually became increasingly credible to the point of becoming a government partner. Although some observers originally thought his metamorphosis might have been mere political calculation, Fini's outspokenness on a variety of themes - from immigration and living wills to corruption, morality and judicial independence - now seems sincere to most, and in any event means he now locked in to a series of positions from which he is unlikely to backtrack. Fini also appears to have found Berlusconi's individualist," me me me", style of politics, increasingly hard to take.

At the moment,  unfortunatley for him, the former Alleanza Nazionale leader is under attack by two rightwing newspapers for the somewhat unclear fate of an apartment in Montecarlo that in 1999 was left to the partyt  but, after being sold last year to an offshore finance company, has somehow ended up as the residence of his current girlfriend's younger brother. This is not good, especially since the finalization of "il divorzio" follows the outbreak of new anti-corruption investigations which have involved several Berlusconi supporters, at least five of whom are PDL members of parliament. Two of these were Cabinet members and have resigned the other three, one of whom is the PDL's national coordinator, have not.


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