Berlusconi's dramas


SILVIO BERLUSCONI may have survived yesterday’s vote of no-confidence in the Italian Lower House but the embattled, endlessly resilient, prime minister’s woes are far from over. Both the government’s loss last week of its absolute majority through the parting of Mr Berlusconi with old ally and lower house speaker Gianfranco Fini, and the emergence on Tuesday of a new four-in-a-bed sex scandal, reinforce the opera buffaquality of Italian politics.

Act Three, Scene One, the beginning of the denouement of our drama, in which our hero, abandoned by his put-upon wife, and tormented by treacherous courtiers and rivals, rails against the indignities being heaped on him and vows to fight on . . . “ O sole mio!”

But Mr Berlusconi, who threatened an election if he lost the vote, has demonstrated a political longevity most untypical of his country. Against the odds, and probably increasingly unable to push legislation through parliament, his two-year-old government may struggle through to his definitive curtain call in 2013, although it is already down three ministers in the last three months due to “improprieties”. In reality, Mr Berlusconi’s opponents are no more enthusiastic about an election now than he is.

The immediate cause of yesterday’s vote was the alleged role of junior justice minister Giacomo Caliendo, accused of involvement in a pseudo-masonic “P3” group that acted as the prime minister’s dirty tricks unit in influencing judges in cases vital to Mr Berlusconi and in digging up dirt on rivals. Alleged influence-peddling appears also to be at the core of the latest sex scandal – Bari-based call girl Terry Di Nicolò says she was paid by businessman Gianpaolo Tarantini to party with Mr Berlusconi in the hope the latter would look favourably on some of the former’s business dealings.

The departure along with 33 supporters of Mr Fini, a co-founder with Mr Berlusconi of Freedom People Party (PDL), means the prime minister is now unlikely to secure passage of the so-called “Gag Law” Bill on wiretapping. It limits press freedom and ties the hands of Mafia investigators, and has been widely criticised as an attempt by the prime minister to frustrate his critics. Other Bills may also fall and Mr Berlusconi may see himself in more trouble in the courts if the constitutional court overturns another of his “immunity” laws, introduced earlier this year to protect serving politicians from prosecution. For sure, however, if he goes down he will go down fighting. Fortissimo.