On the morning of the 2nd October, the man who had stylised himself as ‘Il Cavaliere’ of Italian politics awoke to find his political control and influence in tatters.
Silvio Berlusconi’s ministers and MPs of his People of Freedom Party (PDL) had defied their leader’s call to bring down Enrico Letta’s coalition government in a vote of no confidence; which Berlusconi had hoped would help him fight his expulsion from the Senate. With the loss of control over his party, Berlusconi was forced into a humiliating u-turn and had to support the coalition government in an attempt to salvage his image of being in control of his party.
However, this rebellion against his leadership was not inevitable. As surprising as it sounds, after all of his offensive comments and ‘jokes’ on the global stage, charges of bribery and abuse of power, and leading Italy to near bankruptcy in 2011 – which led to his resignation as PM – he is still popular amongst the electorate, with his party still 2nd in the polls, and until recently commanded unwavering loyalty from most of his party.
The mistake he made was his all too familiar one: he over-estimated his power. By trying to bring down Letta at a time when many see him as the one who can save Italy from its €2 trillion debt, stagnant economy and 40% youth unemployment, Berlusconi had overreached himself.
No one in his party was prepared to bring down yet another Italian government which would have probably led to the markets turning against the country, just so Berlusconi could have a bargaining chip to fight off his expulsion. He had tested his party’s loyalty to the limit, but even Berlusconi cannot command that much loyalty.
So the question remains, will this finally be the end of Berlusconi? Usually the answer would be no, as he is one of the great survivors of European politics and tends to always find a way back to the top no matter the scandal, but the answer this time seems far less certain.
This blow to his political influence comes at a time when he also has just been sentenced to one year of community service for tax fraud, appealing against his one year prison term for wiretapping and his seven year conviction for paying for sex with an underage girl. With all these convictions likely to be upheld, even if he does not go to prison – which is likely due to his age – he will be out of the political sphere for a while.
On top of all that, later this month the Senate is set to vote on Berlusconi’s expulsion from the Senate and barring him from future elections. With most Italian commentators expecting it to go through it is hard to see how he could stay in the political centre stage.
With the culmination of all of these hurdles, his days in the Senate are most likely coming to an end. However, although his grip over the party may have weakened, he still has a large support base amongst the electorate.
As well as this, a block in the PDL are still ultimately loyal to him despite the events earlier this month. This could work to his advantage moving his parties outside the assemblies. ‘Il Cavaliere’s’ days as a force in Italian politics are not over just yet, even if the future of the Italian politician is anything but certain.