Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, whose tenure has been beset by scandal, saw his government move closer to collapse Monday after four cabinet members quit
Today, President Giorgio Napolitano summoned the heads of the Senate and of the Lower House for consultations, an emergency measure that might signal the calling of early elections or the institution of a temporary government. But also on Tuesday, the leaders of the opposition vowed to wait until the budget is passed this month before voting a no-confidence motion on the government.
"The countdown for the end of the Berlusconi era has begun," said Michele Meta, a parliamentarian from the Democratic Party, the major opposition force.
Berlusconi, a flamboyant media and construction tycoon and owner of the popular soccer team AC Milan, entered politics in 1994. Under the slogan, “The new is coming forth," he filled a political vacuum after a series of political corruption scandals. Since then he has ruled Italy with only brief interruptions from left-wing governments.
His opponents accuse him of having an excessive control over the media and of fostering a cult of personality. He currently controls six of the seven major Italian TV channels. Three are owned by his own family, while three are run by the government. In 2008 he ran a political campaign on the slogan “Meno male che Silvio c'è," which roughly translates into, “Thank God Silvio exists.”
Internationally, he has built a reputation for his close friendship with controversial leaders, such as Russia's Vladimir Putin and Libya's Muammar Qaddafi, and for his gaffes, most recently when he described President Barack Obama as “a young man with a good tan.”
While analyst Ivo Diamanti called Berlusconi the “glue” that has held the country together for more than a decade in an editorial for La Repubblica, he says, "Now the glue has run out."
Mr. Diamanti argued that Berlusconi successfully
Historian David Bidussa compares Berlusconi's rise to a
Mr. Bidussa argues that Italy's economic system, with the exception of the luxury industry, is based on the idea of selling the cheapest, lowest quality product to the broadest public.
But others still believe Berlusconi is here to stay.
Indeed, even if his present government seems doomed, some commentators say the prime minister still has a chance to win the next elections, which may be held as early as March.
“Berlusconi still has a great capacity to remain in the public scene,” argues Mr. Polito. On the other hand, the left-wing opposition is weak and divided, while the centrist party recently founded by Mr. Fini, Future and Liberty, still has to prove its public support.
Since he came to power, however, few things actually changed. As a matter of fact, fiscal pressure has risen during Berlusconi's 2001-06 government.
“Now Berlusconi can no longer present himself as a modernizing figure," says Polito. “His energy is gone and all he has done in the past five years is simply survive politically thanks to the weakness of the opposition.”
The prime minister could continue on the same track for a few years, he says.
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