Silvio Berlusconi on Monday faced dissent within his People of Freedom Party, complicating his plans to bring down Prime Minister Enrico Letta’s coalition government. But even if Letta survives a confidence vote on Wednesday the prospects for stability and reform in Italy look more fragile than ever as he will face a larger and stronger opposition backed by Berlusconi’s media empire. Letta’s hopes of survival appear to rest on some 20 senators from Berlusconi’s party, who are unhappy with his shock decision on Saturday to withdraw his ministers from Letta’s government. Italian shares and bonds recovered some of their losses on financial markets after a party source told Reuters the group of PDL moderates may be ready to back the government and break away from the PDL if Berlusconi does not soften his stance. However, whether the dissidents are actually prepared to back Letta remains to be seen. They did not speak out at a PDL meeting on Monday where Berlusconi called for unity, repeated that the party must push for early elections and did not open any internal debate, according to lawmakers present.
While many Italians were delighted that Silvio Berlusconi was sentenced Monday to seven years in prison for paying for sex with an underage woman, many more did not really care. They have seen this film dozens of times before. Mr. Berlusconi, who was Italian prime minister three times before he was effectively ousted in 2011 at the height of the debt crisis, has always been one step ahead of the law. He has been endlessly prosecuted and, only last month, an appeals court upheld his four-year prison sentence for a tax-fraud scheme. In all of these cases, he pleads innocence, blames his woes on left-wing conspiracies and overzealous prosecutors, and unleashes his armies of lawyers to set the appeals machine in motion. So far, it has worked. Mr. Berlusconi has never seen the inside of a prison cell and probably never will. Appeals can take years and, in Italy, old men tend not to spend their last years behind bars. He is 76 and looks his age. Still, Monday’s verdict could have serious political repercussions at a time when Italy, which is in deep recession amid soaring unemployment, is desperate for a stable government that can keep economic reforms alive. He remains the head of the People of Freedom party (PdL), which supports the coalition government of Enrico Letta, who became prime minister in April after February’s inconclusive election. If Mr. Berlusconi withdraws his support for the government, it would come crashing down.
Italian voters were choosing mayors in Rome and other municipalities Sunday in balloting, whose results will be interpreted as a test of ex-Premier Silvio Berlusconi’s political influence with possible repercussions on the national government. Media mogul Berlusconi campaigned for his center-right party’s candidate in Rome, incumbent Gianni Alemanno, who is trying for a second term in a runoff against former transplant surgeon Ignazio Marino, who is backed by the center-left. Alemanno trailed in the first round two weeks ago in Italy’s capital. In his first run for the office, in 2008, Alemanno also trailed in the first round, but mounted a strong comeback to win in the runoff. Marino’s and Alemanno’s parties are the main partners in a coalition of bitter rivals in Premier Enrico Letta’s 5-week-old government, and are struggling to spur economic growth in the recession-mired country.
Billionaire showman Silvio Berlusconi has again astonished Italy with a storming comeback that has frayed nerves in European capitals and among investors, but the signs are his final gamble has failed. The 76-year-old media magnate and four-times prime minister looked down and out for much of 2012 after a jeering crowd hounded him from office in November 2011 as Italy tottered towards a Greek-style debt crisis. His indecision over whether to stand in this weekend’s election brought his People of Freedom Party (PDL) to the brink of disintegration. But since precipitating the fall of his successor, technocrat Mario Monti, in December and diving into the campaign, the former cruise ship crooner has shown unrivalled mastery of communication and energy belying his age. “Berlusconi was a poor prime minister but is a very tough campaigner, he never gives up,” said analyst Massimo Franco.