Berlusconi shows the strain

All those in Italy who oppose the Italian premiership – around half the country, I’d say – cheered with relief when the news broke that Silvio Berlusconi had been stripped of his legal immunity and could now face prosecution in a number of trials. But so did many other Italians – because it’s a win for the Italian constitution, not for the «left wing», as Berlusconi wants people to believe. And many who cast their vote for Berlusconi, when faced with the choice between him and the constitution, would rather keep their pledge to the latter.

In La Stampa, Michele Ainis wrote that the judges’ decision was a lesson to politics, while Marcello Sorgi said Berlusconi’s reaction, attacking the president of the republic, Giorgio Napolitano, went «beyond all limits». Of course the prime minister has every right to fight back, but attacking these institutions makes him seem weak and indefensible – even to his friends. The rightwing Gianfranco Fini, in his role as president of Italy’s chamber of deputies is also irritated by the attack against Napolitano.

According to Massimo Franco, a columnist at Il Corriere della Sera, Berlusconi’s fury is not out of control, but a calculated risk: battle is now fully declared between the government and the presidency, and Berlusconi is forcing his allies to come out in his support. After all, a leader consecrated by popular elections who could now end up in court defending himself against some serious allegations weighs heavily on the political future of Italy.

Of course in La Repubblica, the newspaper that has been openly campaigning for the opposition and that organised the demonstration for freedom of the press last week in Rome, the tone is triumphant, with headlines such as «The force of democracy» and «The illegitimate immunity». But it was Massimo Gramellini who expressed what most Italians were feeling in his satirical column «Buongiorno» in La Stampa: «Disgrace is so leftwing».

So what happens now? On the one hand, four trials will resume that Berlusconi will have to attend: the first is the so-called «Mills case», to find out if Berlusconi bribed the British lawyer David Mills; the second is about illegal funds for Mediaset TV rights, in which Berlusconi is accused of fiscal fraud; the third concerns Mediatrade, where the premier might be called to answer charges of embezzlement; and finally the judges in Rome have to decide on the accusation of corruption of leftwing senators.

On the other hand, the financial newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore points out that Berlusconi might benefit from new immunity legislation currently being considered by the government. Columnist Stefano Folli comments:

Without immunity and with trials in progress, Berlusconi’s road is becoming a difficult one. But there are no immediate alternatives. It’s up to him to decide in the future if he feels he can still serenely govern Italy. On paper there is a centre-right majority that can survive without its charismatic leader. A post-Berlusconi centre-right. But that’s not the immediate issue. Right now it’s more important to stay calm and avoid extreme damage: the disconnect between democratic institutions and the people.

Seeing as Folli writes from the pages of the newspaper owned by Confindustria, the Italian leaders/industrialists’ organisation traditionally placed in the political centre, Berlusconi no longer appears to be in good health as a leader in Italy. No wonder his opponents are starting to feel like they can allow themselves to cheer.

Anna Masera, an Italian journalist.