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Going, going....but not yet gone. PDF Print E-mail
Nov 15, 2010 at 12:00 AM

Image After months of sex scandals, fruitless political manoeuvring and vicious name- calling, Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi's center-right government is now close to collapse. After the resignation today of four members of the Italian cabinet belonging to two dissident factions, Italy's 62nd postwar government may be in its final days. But  whether or not this means that Berlusconi's political career is over is a query that one should be careful about answering. Currently in hot water because of a series of political and personal messes largely of his own making, Berlusconi, who has dominated politics here since 1994, can still (unfortunately) not be counted out. Two factors work to his advantage: the lack of any real and charismatic opposition political leader who can challenge him, and a generally amoral public opinion which, I am sorry to say, tends to put financial and political success way ahead of either good government or ethics.


With the likelihood of a bonafide political crisis now taken for granted by just about everyone, the more pressing question is, perhaps, whether or not Italians will be called to the ballot boxes in the near future. Because there is another possibility, or rather two. One, that Berlusconi himself will be able to form a new government with a somewhat altered political composition; two, that someone else will be asked to form a so-called "technical government" - one with no clear political affiliation.

At the moment, Berlusconi seems intent on having Italy hold new elections, at least - he now says - for the lower house, the Chamber of Deputies, where he has his greatest problems (although this partial solution is not constitutionally possible). But Giorgio Napolitano, President of the Republic, whose job it is when a government falls to try and find someone capable of forming a cabinet, may not agree. And this would be understandable. Itay has serious economic problems, and to keep them from getting worse the country needs responsible and continuous stewardship.

Faced with the likelihood that opposition parties soon will file a motion of no confidence, Berlusconi, said on Sunday that he, himself, will ask for a vote of confidence ... but not before parliament votes on, and passes, the new Budget Law. And Napolitano is bound to agree with him on this. But this will only win Mr. B. him a partial reprieve. The fact is much of the political world is all to well aware that serious government has been put on hold over the last six months or so while Berlusconi battled it out with one of his former allies and dismayed a good part of Italy (what part, is not clear) and the Church, with his increasingly libertine lifestyle.

The Italian political situation is rarely easy to understand, but these days it is even more confusing than usual. Nevertheless, let's try to make it as simple as possible. Berlusconi finds himself in his current situation for two basic reasons.

First, ever since forcing Gianfranco Fini, his former ally, out of the party he leads, the PdL (People of Freedom party), last summer, his majority in parliament has been imperilled. On some occasions, the MPs who have switched over to Fini's new party, Freedom and Liberty (FLI), have voted with the Berlusconi majority; on other occasions they have not. And Fini has stuck to his guns, despite a smear campaign launched against him last July by one of Berlusconi' pet newspapers and which bored us all to tears.

Recently, Fini, who is also Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies, decided to take a stronger stance and said that if Berlusconi refused to resign, the two cabinet ministers faithful to him would resign from the government. Berlusconi's response was that he will never resign and so, this week, the Fini contingent is supposed to pull out. Fini is a former neo-fascist, who transformed Italy's rightwing postwar party, the Italian Social Movement, into the more respectable Alleanza Nazionale. Over the last few years he has turned himself into a moderate conservative with liberal views on several major social issues. Paradoxically, since merging his party with Berlusconi's Forza Italia in March 2009, the former neo-Fascist has been viewed with approval, or something approaching approval, by many left of center voters.

Second, although I am quite sure that if Italians were to vote tomorrow Berlusconi would once again be the winner, there is no doubt that his popularity has declined. And it would appear that the major cause for this is - or in my view should be - his increasingly dissolute private life.

Berlusconi, 74, soared to power 16 years ago on the wings of a new political party called Forza Italia. One of Italy's richest men, and a brilliant business man at the top of a vast real estate, media and publicity empire, he has appeared to be the consummate Teflon Man, shrugging off accusations of Mafia ties and so far avoiding conviction on a variety of tax evasion and unfair business practices charges

Now, however, he seem to have overdone it. Last May, news reports now say, Berlusconi reportedly had one of his close collaborators call a police official in Milan and convince him to release from custody a teenage Moroccan sex dancer (and probable prostitute) named Ruby who, he said, was a niece of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarek.

The girl, known as Ruby, who was then a minor, had been arrested on theft charges but told police she - a minor!!!! - had attended several parties at Berlusconi's mansion in the Milan suburb of Arcore. To many people's minds, the fact that he lied to a public official about the girl's identity should have been enough to have led everyone to call for Beròusconi's resignation (but this did not happen). But that the prime minister of Italy is hosting parties attended by underage women, who by the way seems to have told police that at the parties guests participated in lascivious dances called "bunga bunga" in various states of undress? Oh boy. Italy has always had problems with its image, but now Belusconi has turned it into an international laughing stock.

This is not the first time, Berlusconi has gotten himself into the news because of alleged relationships with underage girls. Last year his wife, Veronica, left him definitively after he attended the birthday party of an 18 year-old girl named Noemi, saying "Mio marito è ammalato". "My husband is sick".
Since her parents were also at the party, at the time I found it hard to believe this young girl had had any kind of sexual dalliance with Berlusconi.

But I may be wrong. After the Ruby incident hit the news, other "escorts" (cut the escort crap, these are prostitutes) came forward with their own stories of Berlusconi parties (including sexual encounters and cocaine that one young women said was brought in to Sardinia, where Berlusconi has another mansion, on the presidential plane) and presents of up to five thousand euros from the premier.

 I am not saying these things are true and indeed it should be taken into considering that these young women may just be trying to get some publicity: after all, Noemi now has a television gig. But what struck me, is the number of young women who, when interviewed say they didn't see what was wrong with having sex for money if both sides were willing. Poor Italy.


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