Italy’s conservative party leader, Silvio Berlusconi, has announced a new deal with the separatist Northern League, his coalition partner in previous right-wing governments.
The septuagenarian former media tycoon, who is leading Il Popolo della Libertà into February’s election, did not give many details in a radio interview but said he would be the “leader of moderates” in a center-right alliance.
Silvio Berlusconi will seek to reclaim Italy’s prime ministership while his conservative party has withdrawn its support for Mario Monti’s technocratic government.
After meeting with party leaders on Friday, Berlusconi claimed in a statement that, “The situation today is much worse than it was a year ago when I left the government out of a sense of responsibility and a love for my country.”
“I cannot let my country fall into a recessive spiral without end. It’s not possible to go on like this,” he said after explaining that he had been “besieged by requests” to stand for election again.
An SWG opinion poll found 73 percent of Italians disapproving of the former prime minister’s decision to run again. Berlusconi was forced to resign in November of last year when the country teetered on the brink of sovereign default.
Angelino Alfano, secretary general of Berlusconi’s Il Popolo della Libertà, withdrew his support from the incumbent interim government on the same day which therefore no longer has a majority in parliament. But Alfano vowed not to bring Monti down. “Yesterday we did not give a vote of no confidence because we consider the experience of the Monti government has come to an end. But we don’t want to send the institutions and the country into chaos,” he said.
Alfano cited a collapse in home sales, economic contraction and raised taxes as reasons for his party to withdraw its support but offered the fiercest criticism of Monti’s government when he accused it of bowing to the left-wing Democratic Party, which in turn he claimed had bowed to the trade unions on tepid labor market reforms.
The left’s leader Pier Luigi Bersani, who was formally nominated for the prime ministership this weekend, accused the conservatives of “irresponsibility” and wondered, “You think you have some responsibility in the crisis?” Democratic Party argues that parliament ought to be dissolved if Monti cannot be sure of the backing of the right.
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.