Silvio Berlusconi is a political survivor without peer, but his time as Italian Prime Minister might finally be coming to an end. The FT has the story:
Italy’s 75-year-old prime minister stalked grim-faced out of the chamber with calls for his resignation ringing in his ears after his coalition failed by just one vote to secure approval of its motion to approve the budget accounts for 2010.Government officials insisted that the defeat did not compel Mr Berlusconi to resign but admitted it had exposed the fragility of the ruling coalition in a crucial phase as it prepares a raft of important legislation to reform Italy’s stagnant economy.Rome had been rife with speculation that dissidents within Mr Berlusconi’s People of Liberty party were preparing to bring the government down this week, but in the end it was the unexpected absence from the lower house of a few key figures – including Giulio Tremonti, finance minister – that led to the defeat.
Berlusconi has survived one scandal after another, pulling rabbit after rabbit out of his hat, but even the greatest acts finally pall and there are signs that the audience is tiring of the greatest show in Italian politics since World War Two.Berlusconi has been able to maintain a center-right coalition for years, partly because the deeply divided left hasn’t been able to come up with a credible alternative. But as his position weakens, the chances grow that elements of the Berlusconi coalition will pull out.The great tragedy of the Berlusconi years is that while the prime minister was better at getting and holding power than anyone else in the last sixty years of Italian politics, Berlusconi never used it for much beyond securing his private interests. No one had a better chance than Berlusconi to lead Italy toward the kind of reforms that would have allowed it to use the once in a lifetime opportunity of euro membership to reform. This might have been impossible, but the Prime Minister never really tried.Perhaps he will pull one last rabbit out of his increasingly weatherbeaten silk hat, stabilize his government and inaugurate a serious program of reform. More likely, he will continue to fade from the scene, his majority dissolving and his life’s work undone.History is unlikely to be kind.