Peter Storey marvels at how Berlusconi manages to stay in power, despite scandal after scandal.
Whilst thinking about writing an article on Silvio Berlusconi, I realised that I couldn’t think of another current Italian politician, let alone a cabinet minister (although my knowledge of Italian lingerie/super models isn’t quite up to scratch). Lately, not a week has went by without the 74 year old Italian Stallion getting into some kind of controversy, whether it’s claiming that the Mafia are out to get him, telling young voters a (poor) Hitler joke or just knowing Vladimir Putin.
Although many think it’s time for the multi-billionaire to leave office, with speculation about there being an early election in Italy, there seems to be few faces that stand out as potential opponents as the left in Italy’s politics is still relatively fractured, despite Mr Berlusconi’s escapades. Even some of his critics, however, claim that Berlusconi shouldn’t leave office immediately as it would cause political and economic instability in the country that, like most EU countries, is attempting to encourage stable economic growth after coming out of recession. Yet the owner of AC Milan is still resilient that he will not leave office, despite his age, personal life and approval ratings. When Putin and he joked that they could be in their respective jobs till they were 120 due to new research, we should probably be more worried than amused.
Even though Berlusconi blames the media for his bad reputation, much of his fortune comes from the media, owning three of the seven national television stations as well as many of Italy’s leading newspapers. Usually you could claim that if someone is being hounded, that everyone’s just jumping on the media band-wagon, but with Mr Berlusconi, there is clearly no smoke without fire. Recently, the Italian Prime Minister was reported to have remarked that he wouldn’t change his lifestyle and that he would rather be passionate about pretty girls than be gay. Not exactly tactful.
Perhaps it is the case that Berlusconi is holding Italy to ransom, as recent poles would suggest that he is still ahead, by a slight margin, of Italy’s main centre-left party, the Democratic Party. If he were to be ousted at an early election, Italians would realise that this would lead to economic instability.
It is an interesting what-if to consider whether the Italian PM would act in the same way if his country wasn’t facing an economic crisis. If his previous two premierships are to be taken into account, then it would appear that he wouldn’t. Even though, like most European countries, the Italian government is a coalition, Berlusconi definitely appears to dominate, with there being little tangible opposition within the coalition from the other two parties.
The question still remains in Italy – oust the incumbent and face economic instability or remain relatively content with the coalition and face stagnation? Although Italy may have been steered quite skilfully away from bank liquidations, this, coupled with Berlusconi’s questionable private life and resulting lawsuits have meant that little legislation has been passed through the Italian parliament. With allies starting to turn their backs on Mr Berlusconi, world economies gradually starting to stabilise and fresh scandals emerging, it seems that his departure from the office of Prime Minister is becoming a question of when rather than if.
However, few are wishing to rock the political boat in Italy at the moment in fear of the consequences. Until substantial opposition appears to Mr Berlusconi’s premiership, Italy appears to be stuck with him. It could be worse, though. At least Berlusconi doesn’t have pictures of himself hunting shirtless like his Russian counterpart.