Will Italy survive Berlusconi's third term?

politics | Feb 6, 2008 | By Andrei Fedyashin

The Italians have never had a chance to get used to long-standing governments.

The resignation of the Romano Prodi Cabinet was not followed by the formation of an interim technical government, and President Giorgio Napolitano had to dissolve parliament. Now early parliamentary elections will have to be held again, probably in mid-April.

Prodi's center-left government held out in the Chigi Palace, the government building, for almost 20 months. This is quite an achievement but not a record - Silvio Berlusconi managed to stay in power without a break for five full years (from 2001 to 2006). This is particularly impressive considering that after the war, Italy had 60 governments (the next one will be 61st), many of which did not even last for three months.

The interim government was dismissed by the restless Berlusconi, Italy's wealthiest man with a fortune of almost $12 billion, the owner of a media empire, football teams, a bad guy of Italian and European politics with a scandal-filled career, a bon vivant, and the leader of the center-right opposition. On Sunday, February 3, he buried his 97 year-old mother, and on Monday, the center-left's last-ditch efforts to form a technical cabinet.

"The country should receive an effective government to resolve complicated problems as soon as possible," Berlusconi said. He has been telling the nation that this should be his government since the spring 2006 elections when Prodi won a narrow victory over his Avanti Italia coalition.

He is not far from the truth. Recent polls show that Il Cavaliere, as he is called in Italy, and his center-right coalition are ahead of all other parties in popularity by 10% to 15%.

Moreover, the failure of attempts to form an interim cabinet, which the center-left wanted to run the country during the election reform, is playing into Berlusconi's hands. Under the old law, which he initiated himself in 2005, it will be much easier for him to again conquer the Chigi Palace (for the third time - he was prime minister for a short time also in 1994-1995).

The Italians are somewhat sick and tired of Romano Prodi. Polls show that by the end of the past year, the majority of them wanted Il Professore to stop putting ideas about economic, pension, legal and other reforms into their heads, and to go back to his favorite Bologna University. On the day of his resignation, the jubilant people went into the streets of Rome, as if Italy won the world soccer championships.

In the meantime, the Italians have no reason to be happy. Analysts predict a gloomy future for them. There is no steady economic upsurge. Italy's economic growth rates are the lowest in the European Union. In fact, economic growth is limited to the north, and there is a standstill in the south. The government is fighting against corruption and the mafia, but its talk about breakthroughs is a huge exaggeration.

It seems that Italy is again unlucky, and should go for a major change. There is little hope that 71-year-old Berlusconi will be able to cope with it. He has never been scrupulous, and used the same methods in politics as in business. He built a solid empire, but his career is filled with endless scandals, accusations of corruption, swindling, perjury, and bribing judges. The buoyant Italians may prefer the center-left's rising star - the charismatic Mayor of Rome Walter Veltroni. His main advantage is that he is 20 years younger than Berlusconi, but his victory is not set in stone.

Few Europeans, if any, will hail Berlusconi's comeback. While prime minister, he staged numerous scandals and quarreled with almost all European leaders.

In Russia's relations with Italy, economic interests have long prevailed over politics. Italy is Russia's second largest trade partner after Germany. Moreover, our current and future pre



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