A non-partisan journal of the left.

Even devils will fall...

Wed 16th Nov 2011

To seemingly wide-spread jubilation in Rome, the once mighty Silvio Berlusconi, Italy's longest-serving post-war Prime Minister, self-proclaimed “Jesus Christ of politics”, and one of the Italy’s richest men, finally fell from political power to jeers of “buffoon”, “Mafioso” and calls that he “face trial.

The former building entrepreneur, who rose to become a billionaire businessman presiding over a real estate and media empire (among other enterprises), resigned on Saturday after 17 years as a dominant figure in Italian politics.

In 1993 he formed Forza Italia, his own political party named after a chant used by AC Milan football fans, winning the 1994 election, after which he formed a coalition with the right-wing National Alliance and Northern League parties.

However, bickering and rivalries among the leaders of the three parties – not withstanding Berlusconi’s indictment for alleged tax fraud by a Milan court, led to the collapse of the government within seven months.

In hindsight, it seems ironic that this bandana-wearing 75 year-old entered politics in the wake of a bribery scandal that had brought down the country’s postwar political order - for decades a centrist Catholic party was pitted against Communists.

At the time of election he said: “I have decided to enter the playing field and to take up politics because I don’t want to live in country that is not free, governed by immature political forces and by men who are bound hand and foot to a past that was both a political and economic failure.”

He later lost the 1996 election to Romano Prodi, to whom he lost again in 2006.
Then – fortune favouring him again – he went on to win two more elections in 2001 and 2008, with the Italian voters maybe believing his business acumen was a favourable portend for good leadership – though it might also have something to do with Italians’ reputation for not obeying the rules.

In recent years, it was the sex scandals that have mostly dominated the headlines, with reports of wild ‘bunga bunga’ parties. There was also alarm at the young age of his female companions. Whilst his political fate hung in the balance, last week he was photographed with a former television showgirl, suggesting a rather nonchalant attitude to the ever suffocating events threatening Italy.

Over the course of the years, he has faced at least 50 votes of no confidence in his government, three election victories - 1994, 2001 and 2008 and two election defeats - 1996 and 2006, displaying a startling longevity and ability to bounce back that many ascribe to his media mogul power. However, it must have been more than that, perhaps some Italians held a certain admiration for the sexual swagger and brashness of the man.

But it was the economy that proved to be the straw that broke the back of this vain camel. Since he took power again in 2008, the economy has come under increasing strain, dogged by slow growth and a national debt of 1.9 trillion Euros (£1.7 trillion). Berlusconi had been unable, or unwilling, to pass through vital economic reforms.

Last week, Italy's cost of borrowing touched a new record. A day later Berlusconi said he would resign once budget reforms were passed.

Italy's borrowing costs passed 7%, a rate seen as unsustainable, leading to fears that the world’s eighth largest economy could become the next victim of the debt crisis and potentially bring the whole Eurozone into dire straits.

On 8 November, he lost his parliamentary majority and pledged to resign after an austerity package was voted in by lawmakers on a vote of 380 for and 26 against (Berlusconi’s annotated papers on the vote appear to declare the 26 as traitors).

Former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi still faces four criminal charges, including those of paying for sex with a minor, although both parties deny the act. He also faces charges for abusing his office by helping release the minor in question from police custody after she was arrested for theft.

On Sunday, Berlusconi addressed the nation in a video message, declaring his “love and passion” for Italy and his bitterness at having been jeered on Saturday after he tendered his resignation, an act he said had been one of “generosity” toward the country.

Oft described Technocrat Mario Monti, Italy’s now - unelected - Prime Minister, has to form a government to help haul Italy out of this mess. However, Berlusconi will doubtless be lurking in the shadows. Time will tell how he fares.
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