Well, in the Italian Senate, anyway, where he got an absolute majority. In the Chamber of Deputies he defeated a no-confidence measure, brought by his own “allies” led by House Speaker Gianfranco Fini, by 3 votes. There’s lots of maneuvering still to come, including an effort (unlikely to succeed) to broaden his coalition, but the big news–and it’s very big news–is that he’s once again demonstrated that he can’t be beaten. There’s a lot of gnashing teeth tonight, and not just in Rome, where hundreds of protesters torched the neighborhood around Piazza del Popolo, where Federico Fellini lived in the seventies. Teeth are grinding in London, where the British press, led by the Financial Times, was salivating at the happy thought of Berlusconi’s downfall. Why? I think it’s because the Brits are congenitally jealous of Italy and Italians, who, the Brits think, are too handsome, too sexy, and have altogether too much fun, and Berlusconi has more fun than anyone. Intolerable!
Berlusconi’s opponents must be furious that the prime minister’s victory was largely due to female deputies who switched sides to vote for him. One is Catia Polidori, described in the Corriere della Sera as “Umbrian and very blonde” (and they say that Berlusconi is the sexist!). The other key deputy is Maria Grazia Siliquini, a lawyer from Turin who is in her fifth term in Parliament. This will be particularly hard to swallow, both for Fini’s people and for the Left, who had convinced themselves and many others that women hate Berlusconi. Another happy thought bites the dust…
One of my favorite political analysts, Stefano Folli of il Sole 24 Ore (the Italian version of the Wall Street Journal) thinks it likely that there will be new elections announced in a month or two, and he’s usually right. But if that happens, it will be because of Berlusconi’s wishes, not those of his opponents. It’s virtually impossible to identify any national leader capable of beating him, especially at a moment when the country has to deal with some very serious economic and social problems. Including the rioters in the streets of the capital.
I have never been a big fan of Berlusconi–or, for that matter, any European leader these days–but he’s certainly distinguished himself in many areas. I think he’s the only one of the lot (with the possible exception of Sarkozy) to say that the West must support the Iranian opposition. He’s been an outspoken defender of Israeli security and legitimacy. At the time of 9/11, he remarked at a press conference that “our civilization is superior to theirs; just look at the way they treat women.” You can easily imagine the outrage from the politically correct crowd, but he was right. Good friends of mine are angry because of Berlusconi’s active friendship with Vladimir Putin, but it’s both logical and remunerative for Italy. Some might even call it good statesmanship.