Smarting from his conviction for abuse of office and having sex with an under-age prostitute, Italy’s ex-prime minister Silvio Berlusconi remains defiant, as do his incredibly loyal followers. For the moment, Berlusconi’s political career remains in tact even if it is teetering closer to the edge than ever before.
In fact, Berlusconi’s political career may well be over, only he doesn’t know it.
His supporters remain doggedly loyal and Berlusconi himself maintains he is innocent, though judges hearing quite a number of cases in which he has been accused of all manner of skulduggery would beg to differ. Berlusconi continues to slam the judges for being politically motivated, yet with all his considerable resources, and an army of journalists at his command, Berlusconi has been unable to come up with even a shred of evidence to substantiate his oft repeated claim.
In the eyes of his loyal followers, Silvio Berlusconi has done nothing wrong and there are few signs his most stalwart supporters will desert him. In fact, Berlusconi’s supporters back their master and continue to maintain that he has never done anything wrong, ever.
Even if he has bent a few rules a little from time to time, and has avoided conviction because cases have fizzled out owing to Italy’s statutory limitations laws kicking in, he certainly has never done anything so bad as to warrant spending time in a prison, or so Berlusconi fans claim.
Berlusconi Will Never End Up in a Prison Cell
Actually, it is highly unlikely Berlusconi will ever see the inside of a jail cell even if he is convicted. Italy’s laws treat the over 70s favorably unless they have committed exceptionally serious crimes, so if someone over 70 like Silvio Berlusconi is convicted of a crime, any custodial sentence automatically becomes house arrest.
Even if Berlusconi may be found guilty of distorting democracy by buying political support and, arguably, may have committed treason, this will not be enough of a reason enough to lock up Silvio Berlusconi in a prison cell.
Berlusconi Has Done Untold Damage to Italy’s International Reputation
What is really incredible about the sordid Ruby case which has done untold damage to Italy’s reputation internationally is the defiance of Berlusconi’s supporters who have never condemned in the slightest the actions of their master. Are they blind? Or are they merely a bunch of misguided subservient cronies? Perhaps their loyalty has been bought? One wonders.
None of Berlusconi’s cronies have even thought of questioning whether a man in Berlusconi’s position should use his not inconsiderable power to cover up the fact, in the opinion of a court, that he encouraged the prostitution of a minor and slept with the same minor. At the time Berlusconi was found guilty of sleeping with Ruby, the court announced that 30 or so Berlusconi defense witnesses should be investigated for false testimony. Curiously, while there does seem to be evidence of Berlusconi abusing his power to extricate Ruby from the arms of the law, there do not seem to be any witnesses who have testified that Berlusconi did sleep with Ruby. Both Berlusconi and Ruby deny anything sexual took place.
This is not some mafia boss we are talking about, but the one of the richest men in Italy, a man who should, perhaps, be setting a good example for others. The very same man who at the time of his offences was the prime minister of Italy.
Berlusconi’s Blend of Freedom
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Yet despite the gravity of the recent conviction for abuse of office and other convictions for tax fraud among other things, Berlusconi is playing the victim. He says he will continue to fight for an Italy which is free. But what kind of freedom does Berlusconi mean? The freedom to corrupt, do as one likes, evade taxes and generally ignore the laws of a democratic society? That appears to be exactly what Berlusconi and his supporters stand for. Not freedom, so much as a form of every man for himself anarchy. Others in Italy want this kind of ‘freedom’ too. Why? Partly because being able to do more or less what you like is one of the only ways you can survive in dysfunctional Italy, or so Berlusconi and his supporters believe.
Coincidentally after he was found guilty in the Ruby case, the Berlusconi PdL party is pushing for reforms to Italy’s justice system, just as it did while Berlusconi was in power. Also something of a coincidence is that a number of the members of Berlusconi’s party who are promoting such reforms happen to be under investigation themselves for a number of crimes, including criminal association. Vested interests?
If such reforms are not forthcoming, Berlusconi and Co may attempt to bring down Italy’s grand coalition government, though for now Berlusconi says he will continue to offer his support and keep the government afloat. Such support will last only as long as Berlusconi thinks he can find a way of extricating himself from his legal woes. However, once the time is felt to be right, or when it looks as if he won’t be offered a ‘stay out of jail’ card, the strategy Berlusconi will adopt will be to precipitate Italy into general elections in the hope he can win. This strategy may not actually work for a number of reasons.
One reason is that Berlusconi may soon be declared ineligible to stand for election and another is that even if the Letta government falls, Italy’s president Napolitano may not call elections. What Napolitano may do instead is to form yet another technocrat government, in which case, and assuming he is not rendered ineligible for election, Berlusconi will be in the same boat as he is in now.
Berlusconi’s Plan M
Adding to Silvio Berlusconi’s mounting woes are other court cases which may go against Italy’s tanned supremo, such as the accusation he bribed a senator to help bring down the Prodi government. If he cannot find a way to protect himself, Berlusconi has a plan B, or rather, a plan M, for there are rumors that Berlusconi’s daughter Marina may take over the helm of the Berlusconi PdL party. This path may be blocked by members of Berlusconi’s own party, some of whom are not overly happy with the thought of the PdL becoming little more than an extension of the Berlusconi family dynasty.
Marina Berlusconi, the most outspoken supporter of her father from within the Berlusconi family, appears to be a little reluctant to take over from her father, at least for now.
Berlusconi’s Dead End
Slowly but surely, Silvio Berlusconi is ending up in a dead end and his age is against him too. What will happen? Very hard to tell. So far, no alternatives to Berlusconi have come to the fore and none are on the horizon either. Then again, there’s no opposition politician who seems to be capable of destroying Berlusconi once and for all. Matteo Renzi, the Mayor of Florence who would dearly love to take over the running of the left leaning PD party, may put an end to Berlusconi, but Renzi is not in favor of declaring Berlusconi ineligible for election. Instead, Renzi wants to beat Berlusconi electorally, and not by other means.
There’s a risk that Berlusconi could end up at Italy’s helm once more, but even Italians who formerly believed he was the magic wand Italy needed are beginning to understand this is not the case, so even if elections are called, there’s no guarantee Berlusconi will win. Italians are slowly waking up to the fact that Italy’s current economic situation would appear to indicate that the ‘Berlusconi way’ doesn’t really work. Though Berlusconi has proved adept at winning votes on promises to give Italians hard cash – and such promises are attractive when all the other political parties in Italy are saying belt-tightening is the only way forward.
Would Italy survive another bout of Berlusconi? Probably not and eyes from beyond Italy’s borders will not be overly happy for the tanned supremo to take the reins once again. Last time round Berlusconi nearly caused the whole of Europe to collapse which is way he was kicked out in favor of Mario Monti. Those that worked to have Berlusconi removed before probably won’t want to see him back at the top once more and they may be having quiet words in the ear of Italy’s president to ensure this does not happen.
Berlusconi’s political career may well be over and neither he nor his supporters realize it. The situation will become clearer once the current Letta run government nears its end.