27 October, 2012

The clown goes down

JAILED! screamed the Daily Mail, a headline it has since amended. For Silvio Berlusconi is not in prison, and is not likely to be.

The former Prime Minister was sentenced in a tax evasion case, involving over-declaration of the price of film rights purchased for his Italian TV stations. The sentence was four years but it was immediately reduced to one. The Italian system is that you have two appeals and you have to lose the final one within six years before the sentence is enforceable. That six years expires next year. Perhaps he should, but he won't go to jail.

The verdict is significant, though. It is said that Silvio expected it to go against him and this is one of the reasons he declined to put himself forward as leader of his PdL party at the next election (that, and the fact he is growing less popular as people notice that Monti is achieving reforms which Silvio didn't even try to get through). It leaves Alfano as the front runner to lead the party, but he hasn't achieved much in the way of popularity.

Nor, though, has the left achieved popularity. Bersani is seen as part of the old crowd but rather than bowing out gracefully he is fighting tooth and nail against his challenger for the leadership, Matteo Renzi, the 37 year old Mayor of Florence.

The lack of charisma (something Berlusconi had in spades) and petty squabbling have left the field wide open for the two jokers in the pack. One of these is Monti himself. If the parties cannot form a government he may be appointed, with their approval, for a further short term in office. Otherwise, the Constitution says, for him to be  Prime Minister after next spring he would have to present himself for election. Like all eurocrats he is uncomfortable with democracy and everything it implies (losing your job if you are no good) and says he won't.

The other joker is Beppe Grillo, of the 5-star movement (it started life under the name Vaffanculo, which means fuck off). He is attracting increasing support all over the country, the archetypal 'none of the above' candidate.

The post-Berlusconi era begins in April next year. At present the likely scenario is an uneasy coalition of some of the three parties plus or minus Monti. And the markets won't like that. There is a risk - not a certainty but a palpable risk - that Silvio might have brought the whole house down with him. 

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