Ritorni di Cavaliere? – Silvio’s return seems inevitable

28 10 2007

Photo: Silvio Berlusconi casting his vote in the general elections, May 2006.

Silvio Berlusconi, former Italian Prime Minister and richest Italian businessman, had a lot to celebrate this week. The court of cessation cleared him of alleged corruption charges in connection with the sell-off of the semi-private comestible good company SME in the 1980s. The Cavaliere’s company Fininvest allegedly had bribed judges to prevent the sale to rival and industrialist Carlo De Benendetti, a charge cleared now in court. Berlusconi called the 11-year-long investigation as “dishonorable hate campaign… Billions were spent on an investigation in which I never should have been caught in.”

Though not all is well for the opposition leader on that front, his political campaign to return to the “thrown” has received another boost on October 25, 2007. Romano Prodi’s fragile and fragmented coalition Ulivo government conceded four parliamentary defeats that day, because Antonio di Pietro’s party Italia dei Valori (Italy of Values) voted against the government’s amendment proposals to the budget 2008. Di Pietro, former Public Prosecutor and currently Infrastructure Minister, legendarily led the investigation mani pulite (clean hands) in 1992, which revealed widespread corruption of Italian politics. The charges brought against the political elite then led to a shake-up of Italian politics; and, as a side effect, brought the emergence of Silvio Berluscoini and his party Forza Italia, one of Europe’s most controversial politicians, as he merged his economic interests with political power when becoming Prime Minister in 1994 and 2001.

Di Pietro’s resistance indicates that Prodi has to smooth his way in order to survive the weeks ahead politically. The recent éclat focuses around Justice Minister Clemente Mastella of the Christian Democrats, who allegedly undermined investigations against him regarding misuse of EU funds, by transferring Public Prosecutor Luigi De Magistris to a new post. A Berlusconian move, as also the Cavaliere put political pressure influence investigations of corruption against him while in office. Not surprisingly, Di Pietro demands nothing less than the dismissal of Mastella

European commentators have spoken of ‘Black Thursday’ for Prodi’s government, and the chances of survival for the whole period seem unlikely. With a narrow majority of two seats in the senate, Berlusconi has done everything to undermine the stability of the ruling left-wing government. His legendary exclamation after the May 2006 general elections – that Berlusconi lost – the Cavaliere threatened to “buy those two”. However, Prodi’s pressure of putting motions to the senate combining them with a vote of confidence has kept the diverse coalition together for the past 18 months.

Berlusconi increases the pressure, and hopes that moderate forces within the Ulivo coalition. Among those senators targeted are three from the German-spoken conservative SVP (Südtiroler Volkspartei), traditionally distrustful of right-wing Italian governments, as to concerns of the Southern Tyrol autonomous status of the province. However, Berlusconi has made the first step for reconciliation, though senior SVP party members deny that the retraction of Forza Italia hardliner Michaela Biancofiore in the province has any impact on their political stand: “We are not for sale”, they say, and Berlusconi himself denies any of that anyway, as he is only offering and “interesting sphere of activities.”

Romano Prodi, in the meantime, remains calm and relaxed, as he celebrated the upcoming Austrian National Holiday with Chancellor Alfed Gusenbauer at the Austrian Embassy in Rome the same evening. “Those who are believed dead have always lived longer”, he said with a smile. Will that be enough to rescue his fragile coalition? also the Cavaliere smiles as he is certain to win, but only the new general elections. A transition government, as currently discussed, would bring his hopes almost certainly to an end.

This is an excerpt, the full article was published in November 2007 in The Vienna Review.

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