Magazine article The Nation

Italian Portents

Magazine article The Nation

Italian Portents

Article excerpt

Silvio Berlusconi is out but not down. Removed from the premiership, he is angrily fighting back, apparently refusing any compromise. He has attacked the transitional government of technocrats appointed by President Oscar Luigi Scalfaro and headed by Lamberto Dini, the conservative former executive of the I.M.F. and the Bank of Italy who had been Treasury Minister in Berlusconi's Cabinet. The new team is now unsure of parliamentary approval; Berlusconi's right-wing coalition is attacking Scalfaro as well as Dini, and what started as a government crisis may grow into a crisis of the presidency, with impeachment being threatened.

Berlusconi's tenure was relatively brief because the super-salesman did not deliver. The business establishment hoped the upstart tycoon-turned-politician would dismantle the welfare state, but his attack on pensions sparked mass demonstrations. Berlusconi had promised a million new jobs; instead half a million old ones were lost. The lira tumbled and bank rates rose, increasing the heavy burden of public debt. In the new circumstances, the most reluctant member of the odd-bedfellow governing coalition, Umberto Bossi, leader of the Northern League, who hated the man he called "Berluskaiser," could withdraw.

But according to the admittedly dubious polls, Berlusconi's popularity is still high. Using his control over the media (his own three TV networks and two of the three owned by the state), lying with great chutzpah (he insists he did create jobs--and those who question this are Commies), he hammers home the point that a new government is a betrayal of the popular will. …

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