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Berlusconi fails to out-clown the market

world Updated: Nov 10, 2011 01:15 IST
Barry Moody

Silvio Berlusconi dominated Italy for 17 years with a unique mix of political talent and brazen behaviour but in the end it was market pressure from abroad that brought him down.

Berlusconi confirmed on Tuesday that he would stand down after a new budget law is approved in parliament.

"After the approval of this finance law...I will resign, to allow the head of state to open consultations," he told his own Canale 5 television.

Bolstered by unrivalled communication skills and a dominance of Italian media, Berlusconi had for years seemed immune to a series of controversies that would have destroyed a politician in most other parts of the world.

They included the lurid "Rubygate" scandal in which he was charged with having sex with an under-age prostitute, and included a wave of salacious revelations from police wiretaps about alleged orgies at his luxurious Milan villa.

He also faces two ongoing fraud court cases, the latest in more than 30 prosecutions by magistrates he accuses of being communists bent on perverting democracy.

The media tycoon, once a cruise ship crooner, was always unrepentant about a notoriously off-colour sense of humour and a series of diplomatic gaffes which have led some foreign leaders to try to avoid being photographed near him.

Berlusconi, 75, one of Italy's richest men and prime minister for longer than any postwar leader, had been in political decline for most of this year. But he had seemed to have a good chance of hanging on to scheduled elections in 2013, until markets spooked by the Greek crisis turned on Italy, focusing on factors that had existed for years — stagnant growth and a debt mountain equal to 120% of GDP.

Major disagreements within Berlusconi's coalition, especially a refusal to sanction deep pension reform by the Northern League, meant his promises to implement economic reforms in return for ECB bond buying were never followed by action, prompting increasing impatience among fellow euro zone leaders. Deputies in his PDL party finally decided they had had enough and abandoned him in numbers, fearing their electoral support would be wiped out and seeing him as a liability.