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Heeeeeee's back! Berlusconi, A man so shortghted he cannot see beyond his own EGO! PDF Print E-mail
Dec 08, 2012 at 06:00 PM

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The puppet and the puppeteer
  Silvio Berlusconi, once again reversing his on-again, off-again decisions to leave politics, appears now to have decided to try and pull the rug out from under the feet of Italian prime minister, Mario Monti, and has convinced his party, the PdL, (the one he said was leaving) to back him in this endeavor by abstaining on a key economic decree currently before Parliament. If he succeeds, the Monti government - a technical (unelected) government in power now for 13 months - may fall, opening the way for new elections that will be hotly contested between Berlusconi and his allies and the center left. Italian president Giorgio Napolitano appears to have convinced the PdL to take it slowly, so that several key economic reforms will get passed before parliament is dissolved. But the new development is nevertheless unsettling.

At the moment, the PdL is far behind in the polls compared to the PD, Italy's major opposition party, but Berlusconi seems to be convinced that between now and elections (the most probable date is March 10-11) he will be able to turn the country's mood around. Most observers think he will be sorely disappointed and personally I hope they are right. Not only did he repeatedly make a laughing stock of Italy by his antics - in both private and public life - but his failure to address the storm clouds gathering on the economic horizon deserves a lot of the blame for many of Italy's current problems. How it can be that there are still voters who believe Berlusconi ought to have a chance at being prime minister again, is beyond me. But there you are. There is no accounting for taste (or stupidity).

But whatever happens when Italians finally go to vote (there will also be competition from the new, Five Stars party headed by the obnoxious comedian, Beppe Grillo), by undermining the Monti government, Berlsuconi is may also throw a monkey-wrench into Monti's attempts to introduce reforms, higher taxes and austerity into a country whose previous leaders have allowed the economy to slide and finance to falter. Even more worrisome are the indications that his election campaign will be an anti-European one, not a wise choice since without support from Brussels Italy is unlikely to be able to face its problems successfully.

Berlusconi clearly is hoping to ride the growing unpopularity of those measures , particularly among businessmen, big and small, and people within his own party. Monti's austerity measures have boosted investors' faith in Italy's ability to weather the eurozone crisis. They have significantly eased pressure on the borrowing costs in a country whose public debt is enormous; the so-called spread between the interest paid on Italian paper as compared to German treasuries has declined from close to 600 points a year ago to about 300 now. They have brought additional revenues into the country's tax coffers. But while failing to cut public spending to a substantial enough degree they have nevertheless deepened the current recession: overall unemployment reaching now approaching three million and youth unemployment - but this is true in most European countries at the moment - at sky-high levels. People are worried and angry and all too many of them seem not to realize that the situation is not Monti's fault but that of those who preceded him (and for the most of the previous 18 years, that was Berlusconi).

But it is a very short-sighted view since the country's problems are real and have gone unaddressed all too long. Up until now, Berlusconi had surprised everyone and supported most of the Monti government's actions by voting for most of its measures in the Italian Parliament. It may be that he has also chosen to interpret his party's disastrous results in local elections in Sicily earlier this fall as a result of his lack of leadership. Or it may simply be that his ego could just not abide the idea of his no longer calling the shots.
"We consider the experience of this government to be concluded," PdL secretary Alfonso Alfano - a Berlusconi appointee - said Thursday in the lower house, the Chamber of Deputies. announcing the decision to abstain o back two key votes. "This has nothing to do with Monti as a person, his service to the institutions and his honesty with the political parties and with us in particular", Alfano added.

He did not mention, that Berlusconi's purported decision to abandon plans of retirement (but who knows what next month may bring) and to run for prime minister for the fourth time, also quashes the PdL's plans, fervently supported by Alfano and many others until only a few days ago, to hold primaries to select a new, more credible, party leader to take Berlusconi's place.

As for Berlusconi's electoral chances, the verdict will not come in until March. The PdL did extremely poorly in Sicilian regional elections in October and posted its lowest-ever level of support in an opinion poll released Friday, 13.8%. Beppe Grillo's anti-establishment Five Star Movement, which is polling at close to 20%.And the PD, which recently brought three million people to the polls in primaries to ratify their current leader, Pierluigi Bersani, led at about 30%.

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