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Berlusconi resigns! PDF Print E-mail
Nov 12, 2011 at 10:33 PM

Berlusconi opponents exult (Corriere della Sera photo)

Silvio Berlusconi is no longer the prime minister of Italy. As promised, the 75-year old controversial, conservative politician resigned his office tonight just a few hours after a majority in the Italian parliament approved a promised austerity package, although it is no secret that stronger and harsher measures will have to follow if Italian finances are to be set right. 

Immediately after Berlusconi's, Italian President Giorgio Napolitano officially announced a schedule for the meetings with former Italian presidents and Italy's major political leaders that by law and custom must precede the formation of a new government. The 86-year-old Napolitano, who has been working ceaselessly to find a political solution to break the current stalemate that has put Italy in its most serious financial plight since 1992, is set to ask respected economist Mario Monti to try and form a new government.

Berlusconi, who has dominated Italian politics for the last 17 years and served three terms as head of government, two of which were the longest in Itaian history, agreed earlier this week to leave office when it became clear that by remaining in power Italy's finances - a spiralling public debt that the country could find itself unable to finance - would only worsen.  He promised Giorgio Napolitano, the country's 86-year old Italian president, he would resign as soon as the parliament passed the so-called Stability Law,
A series of emergency measures that his government had put together in recent weeks to try and start a process or structural reform requested by both the European Union and the International Monetary Fund.

And he has kept his word, reportedly also trying to convince the recalcitrant inside his own party that they should support Monti and a largely technical government that would remain in power until additional austerity measures - higher taxes, a wealth tax, a pension reform are just a few of the steps that will have to be taken - are adopted. After which, new elections would be held. Berlusconi's party reportedly has also set other conditions. One is said to be that after enacting the austerity measures, Monti not remain in power and second, the presence in the government as deputy premier of Gianni Letta, a  long-time but fairly respected Berlusconi advisor, but this latter demand, it seems to me, will be totally unacceptable to everyone else.

Some here are still hopeful that the new government could be a national unity coalition bringing  the Berlusconi right and the left-leaning opposition together to act in the country's interest. But there is so much political tension here that such a solution is highly unlikely.

ImageCrowds of several hundred Berlusconi opponents gathered outside  Palazzo Grazioli, Berlusconi's private residence two blocks from Palazzo Chigi, the seat of government, and also outside the Quirinale Palace, whistling (whistles are a sign of disapproval in Italy) catcalling, waving signs reading phrases like "Finally!", "Liberation!", "Today is our Independence Day", singing the "Hallelujah" and shouting insults such "buffoon" and "whoremaster" .

Wire services reported that Berlusconi said he was aggrieved by the degree of hostility of the crowds - and I have to admit I myself found it a bit overdone, especially because he has behaved so honourably in the last few days. But although it is hard to measure exactly what proportion of the population actually is fed up with Berlusconi (let's not forget that for years he had a huge following), there is no doubt that now he is despised by thousands, perhaps even hundreds of thousands. I personally do not know anyone who admits to wanting him to stay in power. And I am talking about people from every social class and walk of life and, in addition, not just leftists.

Ironically, then, it wasn't the years of corruption charges (and several trials), sex scandals and what many people (including me) think of as inappropriate behaviour - stupid jokes etc - on the international scene, to lead him to go. Berlusconi has been brought down not by his unhealthy obsession with young women (his now estranged wife said two years ago that he was a very sick man), but by his failure to govern incisively and effectively and by his refusal to look Italy's economic and financial problems in the eye before things precipitated to their current state.

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