Italy’s bruised politicians set for next battle
Italy’s political crisis leaves no clear winners, only wounded survivors stumbling towards the next battle in what promises to be a prolonged war while international debt markets look on with trepidation.Silvio Berlusconi
For the prime minister there was the satisfaction of defeating the rebellion that began in his own People of Liberty party, but it is a pyrrhic victory in that it is clear he cannot muster an absolute majority in parliament. In such a poisoned atmosphere his chances of persuading rivals to join an expanded coalition with him at the helm look bleak.
This leaves him contemplating the prospect of elections early next year. Backed by his media empire, he has won three elections since his first in 1994 and lost twice. Opinion polls indicate a tight contest with the tycoon benefiting from disarray in the main opposition Democratic party under Pierluigi Bersani.
At 74 years old, he has to consider the question of succession, especially if his long-term goal, as aides say, is to be appointed as the next head of state. Party insiders say the pack is led by two loyalists – Angelino Alfano, the youthful justice minister, and Franco Frattini, foreign minister.
A former neo-fascist who has moved towards the centre, he emerges as a loser in the short run at least. Mr Fini, in ending 16 years of alliance with Mr Berlusconi, gambled on taking enough rebels with him from the party they co-founded last year to bring down the government. But four supported the prime minister and Mr Fini is left contemplating resigning as speaker of the lower house.
Mr Fini and Pier Ferdinando Casini, leader of the Catholic UDC, face the uncomfortable choice of flying in the face of their grassroots support and rejoining the government or elections. Mr Casini wants Mr Fini inside a centrist alliance despite their differences over right-to-life issues that put Mr Fini in the line of fire of the church establishment.
In 1994, the head of the rightwing federalist Northern League, brought down Mr Berlusconi’s first short-lived government but has remained loyal throughout this crisis. Government paralysis could mean the League losing the prize promised by Mr Berlusconi of fiscal federalism that would see fewer tax euros going from the richer north to the mafia-plagued south.
However, the League is seen as the main gainer should elections be held, possibly emerging as the single biggest party in northern Italy where it already controls two big regional governments.
Biding his time is the finance minister. He has the respect of international investors and close ties with the Northern League, but strained relations with Mr Berlusconi have seen him keep a low profile in recent weeks.