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Berlusconi faces desperate fight for survival

November 13, 2010

by Guy Dinmore in Rome  Published: November 12 2010

Silvio Berlusconi returns to Italy from the G20 summit this weekend fighting for his political survival, with his centre-right coalition disintegrating and the opposition mustering votes to defeat him in parliament following the latest controversy surrounding his questionable relationships with young women.

In spite of his repeated rejection of calls to resign, the 74-year-old prime minister has few options. Even allies are pushing him to take the risk of calling snap elections midway through his term despite opinion polls showing a clear victory would be in doubt.

While it is too early to pronounce the end of an era for one of Italy’s most adept political survivors, manoeuvring within Mr Berlusconi’s own People of Liberty party reinforces a widely held view that this is the beginning of the end.

“This is a manhunt,” commented the daily Il Giornale, part of the Berlusconi family media empire, urging politicians on Friday to stop what it called their endless, paralysis-inducing subterfuge and face the voters.

When Karima el-Mahroug, a 17-year-old Moroccan dancer, burst on to the scene last month with well-publicised images of her minimalist nightclub attire, the prime minister and his associates voiced confidence that this latest scandal would go the way of others, forgotten after a few months of heated television talk-shows.

“Berlusconi is clever enough to be the first to decide when the time is right to resign, but that moment hasn’t come yet,” Franco Frattini, foreign minister, told the Financial Times.

But news that Mr Berlusconi had called a Milan police chief to “inquire” about Ms Mahroug’s detention on the night of May 27, mentioning that he understood her to be related to Hosni Mubarak, Egyptian president (she was not), accelerated a breakdown in his coalition that had been brewing for months.

Gianfranco Fini, speaker of parliament who had been allied with Mr Berlusconi since his first of three election victories in 1994, was emboldened to demand his resignation.

After Mr Berlusconi gets in from the G20 summit in Seoul, Mr Fini is set to announce that he will pull his deputies – one minister and three senior officials – out of government and prepare for a vote of no-confidence in the lower house, possibly in early December after the 2011 budget clears both chambers.

Should he lose that vote – and Mr Berlusconi might yet persuade wavering deputies to support him – then the prime minister would have to present his resignation to Giorgio Napolitano, head of state.

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