Throughout it all — the sex scandals, the gaffs, the numerous allegations of corruption, mafia connections, you name it — Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s popularity remained incredibly strong. While the rest of Europe raised its eyebrows in ever growing bewilderment, the Italian people appeared to approve of their leader in spite of his many missteps or crimes. But now even his political allies have had enough.
Berlusconi’s coalition is struggling with internal dissent. Gianfranco Fini, the head of the Italian parliament and number two in the ruling party Il Popolo della Libertà (“The People of Freedom”) as well as Umberto Bossi of the Lega Nord (“Northern League”) which seeks autonomy from the poorer south of Italy, have confronted the prime minister in recent days.
The internal feud became public drama during a live television broadcast in which Fini criticized Berlusconi’s leadership and announced the formation of yet another party which will be added to Italy’s already splintered political landscape. Berlusconi, obviously caught off guard, chided Fini for exposing the governing party to public mockery and instigated a yelling match not too unbecoming of Italian politicos.
With the political right temporarily fragmented between Berlusconi’s and Fini’s supporters and the left without unified leadership, Italy faces uncertainty amid troubling economic prospects.
Berlusconi previously announced that he wouldn’t seek another term. Without the support of his political friends, running could only result in embarrassment anyway. Bossi lacks a powerful base to run on and suffers from poor health which leaves Fini the only viable contender on the right.