Silvio Berlusconi may be a convicted criminal, but things are so bad in Italy that he still holds enough power to potentially bring down a government in order to get his way.
Five ministers from Berlusconi's centre-right People of Freedom party resigned on Saturday, plunging the country into chaos, instability, and possibly another election seven months after the last one. Berlusconi, who was convicted for tax fraud and for his part in the infamous 'bunga bunga' parties this summer, said the decision was made over a proposed increase in sales tax from prime minister Enrico Letta. Italy's economy was on the mend, but work still needs to be done, and another election would erase a lot of progress.
The move was "mad and irresponsible," the centre-left's Letta told reporters, because now his government no longer has a majority. Letta will work with president Giorgio Napolitano to try and assemble a new cabinet in order to avoid going to the poles again. Letta may not make it through the week, regardless of Berlusconi's actions. Parliament is scheduled to hold a confidence vote next week; if that fails, he has promised to quit.
But the move by Berlusconi's allies to resign is more likely a tantrum thrown by the former Italian leader over a plan to have him removed from office. A Senate committee is schedule to vote next Friday on whether Berlusconi should be expelled from parliament because of his tax fraud convistion. If that vote passes, it will go to the Senate, and it would be hard to imagine a scenario where he's not given the boot.
What his endgame here is unclear. Some say he wants the government to reduce his tax fraud sentence. Some say he wants Letta out of office. Whatever the desired result, if there is one, getting there is certainly a mess.