Silvio Berlusconi’s long and sordid political life might finally be coming to an end.
The Italian media magnate’s center-right People of Freedom (PDL) party remains split over whether to bring down the government in objection to a parliamentary vote scheduled for Nov. 27 that would almost certainly see the three-time premier expelled from the Senate. Longtime protege and current Deputy P.M. Angelino Alfano emerged from tense discussions with Berlusconi early Thursday that failed to produce any kind of deal on how to align the party’s interests with those of its spiritual leader. Which is to say it looks increasingly like the Italian right is determined to forge ahead without him.
This may be a calculation by Alfano and other PDL leaders about Italian conservatives’ long-term political viability as much as it is a personal snub of Berlusconi, who after all has led them to electoral triumph time and again since the 1990s. Though his recent conviction for tax fraud (the motivation behind the Senate vote) and his underage sex scandal (perhaps another reason) are less-than-ideal for a party figurehead, the real problem is that Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement catapulted into political viability this year in large part by ripping comfortable elites unafraid of public accountability. Berlusconi fits that mold perfectly, and Alfano seems to have decided that sacking the government on his behalf would provide an awful lot of fodder for both the center-left and Grillo’s insurgency in the snap elections that would follow.
Berlusconi likely did not help his case by making the outrageous comparison between his children suffering in the spotlight and Jewish victims of the Holocaust. Even for a firebrand who has made more than his share of provocative statements, that one has to take the cake. Of course, it’s not over yet, as there are still a handful of hawkish PDL rank-and-file members who, whether because they admire Berlusconi or simply want his money for future campaigns, insist on doing whatever it takes to keep him in the Senate. But it’s safe to say the writing is on the wall. Berlusconi has defied the laws of political gravity many a time, but now that the (incredibly slow) Italian legal system has finally caught up with him, the 77-year-old media titan may have to settle for a life in the private sector that made him.