Mutiny halts gambit by Berlusconi
MILAN — Silvio Berlusconi's failed attempt to topple the Italian government has left him weaker than ever, zapped of the aura of invincibility that has surrounded him for two decades as he faces the possible loss of his Senate seat and a ban from politics.
Still, it is unlikely to be his last act.
The 77-year-old three-time former premier staged one of Italy's most stunning political plot twists in memory on Wednesday when he took the Senate floor at the last minute to announce that he would, after all, support Premier Enrico Letta's government in a confidence vote.
It was a face-saving measure that came after key loyalists in Berlusconi's center-right party refused to follow his bid to collapse the coalition government as fallout over his tax-fraud conviction. The conviction carries a four-year prison sentence that endangers his role as a legislator.
“We have decided, not without internal strife, to vote in confidence” Berlusconi said.
Though he tried to look magnanimous, it was the billionaire media mogul's first defeat within the party he founded and which has achieved electoral success largely through his personal appeal.
Berlusconi's retreat bestows a measure of stability on Letta's 5-month-old left-right coalition, which won confidence votes in both houses and awaits the daunting task of trying to revive Italy's economy. And while Berlusconi was left bruised and battered, political analysts argue he is not out of the picture.
“Berlusconi is not finished,” said Roberto D'Alimonte of Rome's LUISS University. “This is another step toward the end, but it is not the end yet. The end will come with a major electoral defeat.
“He has great resources. He has media resources, financial resources, the resources of the 6 or 7 million voters who will follow him down the abyss. That is why he cannot be counted out, even with his options being closed.”
Whether Berlusconi can ever again face the electorate is far from certain, because his judicial woes are narrowing his ability to maneuver.