Last week, the Wire asked, "How is Berlusconi still the prime minister of anything?" It seems we're not the only ones wondering. Silvio Berlusconi, the prime minister of Italy, is embroiled in a new, sprawling sex scandal, one that involves prostitutes, allegations of an orgiastic practice called "bunga-bunga," and a teenaged Moroccan belly dancer whom Berlusconi may or may not have gotten released from police custody with a phone call. It's not clear which of the rumors have merit, if any, but public opinion is beginning to turn against Berlusconi. Though he's always walked the line between colorful and scandalous, the latest round of stories may cost him what political capital he still has.
The Whole Country Suffers "These tantalising titbits about Mr Berlusconi have mostly emerged from within the judicial system, before any trial or proper hearing has taken place," says an editorial in The Daily Telegraph. "This (correctly) paints the country's political and legal institutions in a sorry light. It also, however, does further damage to its international reputation. Italy is a founder member of the European Union, a member of the G8, and one of the world's largest economies--yet it is widely seen as a diplomatic lightweight, a backward nation beset by corruption and triviality, rather than as the home of some of the planet's most brilliant and restless entrepreneurs."
Are These the Last Days of Silvio? Ingrid Rowland at The New York Review of Books notes that "so far, the checks, favors, and tax exemptions have kept on coming," but Berlusconi is hemorrhaging political allies. Meanwhile, the country is "struggling as it is to make ends meet as the world financial crisis continues, as manufacturing jobs slip away to Eastern Europe, and as the government's budget cuts slash away at schools, hospitals, and infrastructure."
The Church Wags Its Finger "Two of [Berlusconi's] coalition allies have warned him that his bedroom antics are no longer cute," reports Barbie Nadeau for The Daily Beast. "On Sunday, Gianfranco Fini told his supporters that, for the good of Italy, Berlusconi 'should hand in his resignation.' And for the first time, even the Vatican is speaking out. 'In Roman times, we called this panem et circenses,' Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi of Milan said last week, referring to the ancient metaphor for distracting the public from serious problems by feeding them and dazzling them with entertainment."
Opposing Forces Gather Tom Kington for The Guardian describes Gianfranco Fini as a "former ally" of the prime minister "who defected from Berlusconi's ranks in July." This week, Fini led a vote against an immigration treaty supported by Berlusconi's administration. Kington reports that "the three defeats in parliament yesterday were seen as a flexing of muscles by Fini's supporters, stopping short of bringing down the government but a dry run for coming battles. Gianni Letta, the cabinet secretary and a trusted Berlusconi aide, admitted that the prospects for the government 'seem to be narrowing,' suggesting a return to the polls or the appointment of an interim government."
A Clown Can't Be Prime Minister Newsweek quotes "Emma Marcegaglia, head of Confindustria," a "powerful entrepreneurs' lobbying group," who "said it is necessary to recover 'a sense of dignity, otherwise it is not possible to go ahead.'"
Sure He Can! Don't count Berlusconi out just yet, says Alexander Smoltczyk at Der Spiegel. "Morality will not be Berlusconi's downfall. After all, he wasn't elected because of his morals," writes Smoltczyk. On the other hand, though, "he may be brought down over the promises he hasn't kept or over the newly growing piles of garbage in Naples."