Prime Minister Scrambles to Save His Job -- Again -- in Friday Vote, but Exasperation With High-Wire Act Spreads
By STACY MEICHTRY
ROME—Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's address to the lower house of Parliament Thursday had all the makings of high political drama. The premier, buffeted by chronic infighting among his ranks over how to wrench Italy from the jaws of the euro-zone debt crisis, stood before Parliament, urging lawmakers to back his government in a confidence vote scheduled for Friday.
As Mr. Berlusconi took the stage, however, he was greeted by a half empty chamber, after it had been deserted by opposition lawmakers. His key ally, Northern League party leader Umberto Bossi, sat at the premier's side, repeatedly yawning. Even the premier hinted that Italy's political convulsions, though under scrutiny from financial markets, were becoming routine.
"We're aware of the risks that our country faces. The timing demanded by the markets isn't compatible with these political liturgies," Mr. Berlusconi said.
The scene captured the broader political and economic climate of a nation that has grown exasperated by Mr. Berlusconi's high-wire act, according to analysts, lawmakers and street protesters. The billionaire media mogul might wield the support of enough lawmakers to survive to the end of his mandate, they say, but he no longer wields the political authority to push through painful economic reforms needed to reboot Italy's stagnant economy.
Amid the stalemate, Italy languishes with high youth unemployment, no economic growth and a €1.9 trillion ($2.6 trillion) debt pile.
For nearly two years, the country's gilded salons have been abuzz with chatter that the "end of the Berlusconi era" is nigh. The premier's penchant for late-night parties has left him ensnared in multiple sex scandals, including a criminal trial on charges that he had sex with a then-17-year-old pole dancer—a charge he has steadfastly denied through a mix of indignation and bawdy jokes. Lately, the premier's attempts at humor have begun to miss the mark. A recent quip that he would name a new political party after female genitalia drew howls of protest across the country.
"We are way past being angry or disillusioned," said Michela Laperna, a 34-year-old social worker who joined hundreds of Italians who have begun camping across the street from the Bank of Italy's headquarters in Rome.
She and other protesters said they had long given up on protesting against Mr. Berlusconi specifically and were now directing their public criticism at a perceived attempt by Europe's governments and central banks to shift the burden of paying down Italy's debts to its youngest generations. "I'm afraid Berlusconi-ism won't end with Berlusconi. It has become a way of thinking, acting and dealing with everything that is public," she added.
Part of the reason Italy's 18-year love-hate relationship with the leader endures is that Mr. Berlusconi's dominance has left Italy bereft of political leaders capable of taking the reins, lawmakers say. The careful balance of power among Mr. Berlusconi's lieutenants, as well as that among leaders in the left-wing opposition, depends on the premier remaining at the center of Italy's political landscape.
"It's as if the whole system is wrapped around Berlusconi, and nobody wants it to change," said Deborah Bergamini, a lawmaker in Mr. Berlusconi's political party. "It's a paradox." Mr. Berlusconi is determined to forge ahead with growth-boosting measures, she said, but lately the premier's normally sunny disposition has turned "a bit sad. I think he's a bit disillusioned. It's as if nobody understands you, or what you're trying to do."
Italy's center-left opposition is in disarray, while intrigues within Mr. Berlusconi's People of Freedom Party have assumed the overtones of Shakespearean tragedy, replete with lieutenants jockeying over who will succeed—or betray—the premier. Mr. Berlusconi is locked in a feud with his economy minister, Giulio Tremonti, over economic policy, while Claudio Scajola, a lawmaker and long-time colonel in Mr. Berlusconi's ranks, paved the way for the latest confidence vote by suggesting his support of the government could no longer be taken for granted.
Milan's right-wing daily Libero recently ran a front-page illustration depicting Mr. Scajola as Brutus, raising a blade behind an enrobed Mr. Berlusconi. Mr. Scajola, who hasn't responded to repeated requests for interviews, told lawmakers on Thursday he planned to back the coming confidence vote, prolonging Mr. Berlusconi's run and Italy's limbo.
"We have zero expectations in this government, but we also have zero expectations in the opposition," said Sara Palumbo, a 24-year-old student who had spent Wednesday night camped outside the Bank of Italy headquarters. "We don't feel represented at all, so we don't really care about what will happen tomorrow."
—Nathania Zevi contributed to this article.
fonte: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB1000142 ... TopStories" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
Nci vannu terra terra, peri e mmani;
E pa malignità brutta e superba,
Ccà non crisci chi erba, erba, erba"