In part one of this three part series I began this look at what is keeping Silvio Berlusconi in place in Italy. The previous instalment looked at cronyism, the culture of distrust which pervades Italian society and the Vatican’s tolerance towards Italy’s colourful leader.
Today, I’m going to examine a number of other reasons why Berlusconi is still on top of the roost.
I’ll start by taking a look at Berlusconi’s political leanings.
The Politics of Berlusconi
Berlusconi’s political philosophy, if it exists, appears to be a combination neoliberalism and something approaching fascism. He also appears to like the idea of cult of personality and works hard to keep all those around him in his shadow.
Benito Mussolini appears to be one of Berlusconi’s heroes, and he has been known to quote from Mussolini’s diaries.
Within Berlusconi’s party there are those who were part of Italy’s more extreme right wing – including some who still idolise Mussolini, such as Italy’s defence minister, maybe.
Silvio Berlusconi is aware of the pro-Mussolini sentiment in Italy uses it to his advantage, as well as trying to shine a rosier light on Italy’s late dictator.
Some Italians, for reasons which are not entirely clear, fear communism, even if as a political ideology, it is a spent force. This, however, has not stopped Berlusconi from labelling just about everyone who opposes him as communists. Being a fervent anti-commie goes down well with a section of Italy’s population and contributes to Berlusconi’s popularity.
Berlusconi’s calculated and continual, until recently, attacks on Italy’s judiciary (which he refers to as a bunch of commies) have won him over in the eyes of Italians who desire freedom from interference. Such people only really believe in law and order if it does not affect them.
For others though, it’s not so much right-wing ideals, as the undying attraction of money and power which keeps them supporting Berlusconi. Such people wish to be left free to do as they like without others irritating them over such things as breaking laws.
Berlusconi, like all politicians, loves to make, and repeat, promises. Many of the “reforms” Berlusconi has been promising would ensure that Italy lean even further towards the very opposite of meritocracy.
Quite a number of laws created by his government have appeared to be of direct benefit to Berlusconi. While this has irritated some, other Italians think they would do the same in his place.
Despite the negative aspects of how Berlusconi sees and rules Italy, many Italians share his view and would quite like to keep Italy the way it is. They have confidence in him.
A Question of Confidence
Berlusconi’s extensive network of loyal friends has helped keep his government in place.
Much work has been done to ensure members of his party are unfailingly loyal to Berlusconi. Only the right people have been chosen as his followers. People like Italy’s minister of Tourism.
Choosing the right people is a strategy which has paid handsomely. To date, despite many close calls, Berlusconi’s government has not lost a single confidence vote.
At one point a group of politicians allied to Berlusconi led by Gianfranco Fini woke up to the fact that they were perhaps ruling Italy on behalf of Berlusconi, for Berlusconi, and not for Italy and its population. This group upped arms and left.
For a while Berlusconi’s leadership and government looked very shaky and at one point came very close to losing a confidence vote. However, Berlusconi’s party closed ranks and more loyalists were rounded up to replace those who had jumped ship.
Some suspect Berlusconi buys loyalty, either in hard cash or in terms of favours. Whatever has happened, it has worked and although the Berlusconi government now has a reduced majority, it still commands enough of a majority to keep Berlusconi on top.
When necessary, Berlusconi can count upon enough people to vote for his government’s proposals to keep his party, and his leadership, afloat.
Berlusconi has set up Italy’s parliament to keep him in place for more or less as long as he likes. As long as he can keep the right number of people happy, he will stay in power at least until his term of office comes up for renewal in 2013.
All in a Name
The name of Berlusconi’s party was a deliberate choice. Il Popolo Della Libertà is a name designed to appeal to those in Italy who want the “liberty” to do more or less as they like. Social and environmental awareness does not form part of such liberty – being able to make vast amounts of cash does.
Berlusconi is a meal ticket and biting the feeding hand has never been wise. His supporters, or should that be “benefactors” will not bite Berlusconi for as long as he keeps feeding them.
Italians are very image conscious and successful people are revered in Italy. Berlusconi is successful and is greatly respected for his wealth and power.
Respect for Berlusconi may have dwindled a little, but has not fallen enough to cause huge numbers of Italy’s population to march on Rome or Milan to call on him to go.
Yes, there have been public anti-Berlusconi protests, but nothing like the Arab Spring has hit Italy, and probably will not.
A Family Man
Berlusconi has worked hard to create the impression he is a family man.
On the run up to elections, glossy photographs of he and his children have been used to bolster this image. This is not a surprise – life in Italy revolves around tight-knit family units, so someone who was not family-friendly would not have been at all palatable to voters.
Even Berlusconi’s recent divorce from his wife Veronica Lario does not seem to have tarnished Berlusconi’s family-friendliness. Divorce proceedings which could have turned very, very messy, were carefully stage-managed to ensure Berlusconi’s image was maintained, if not brushed up a little (Oh, poor guy, look how much money he has to pay to his ex?).
Not only this, but frequent reports of Berlusconi carrying out fatherly duties make it into Italy’s papers. This helps Berlusconi continue to mesh with Italy’s strong family ideals. His support as a parent is reciprocated by the very public words of daughter Marina Berlusconi who chides those who bait her dear father.
Divorce is not uncommon in Italy and is not regarded as anything out of ordinary. Italians do not feel Berlusconi’s separation from his wife is anything which should prevent him from being prime minister. Neither do I.
He’s a Nice Guy
Yes, Berlusconi tells bad jokes, acts the clown, is sexist and even says Italy is a terrible country, but he’s fun and charismatic. He’s apparently a charming person in the flesh too – as I’ve been told by someone who has met him.
Berlusconi is one of the people. He is very Italian and plenty of Italians love him for this.
Up to this point, as you will have noted, in the eyes of many Italians, there is nothing which justifies Berlusconi’s standing down. So far, he has not.
In the final part of this examination of Berlusconi’s longevity, I’ll look at some more factors which have played their part in maintaining Berlusconi’s continued presence in Italy, such as his legal woes.
In case you missed it: Berlusconi: How Has He Lasted So Long? – Part One
And here is the final part: Berlusconi: How Has He Lasted So Long? – Part Three