Berlusconi Returns, But Will His Voters?

Silvio Berlusconi this weekend pulled the plug on Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti’s government. Angelino Alfano, general secretary of Berlusconi’s People of Liberty party, said the technocratic experiment was over and announced the PDL would partially withdraw support for Monti. Berlusconi, meanwhile, announced he will stand for the premiership in the resulting elections next year.

Monti’s decision to step down comes days before a summit of European Union leaders to debate a road map for the overhaul of the euro area, including increased powers to intervene in national budgets and the establishment of a single banking supervisor. Stock markets in Europe declined, reflecting investor skepticism over further uncertainty in Italy.

This turn of events underlines again the fragility of the Italian political system, in which governments so often depend on fragmented coalitions to govern — a fragility that makes the solution of the European debt crisis much less predictable.

Still, Berlusconi may have moved too late to achieve one of his aims: to salvage the center-right PDL from decline after the party’s ratings dropped to 14 percent in an SWG Institute poll, compared with more than 20 percent in March. A Demos & Pi poll published in La Repubblica last week showed the PDL dropped to 18 percent from almost 20 percent. The slide of Berlusconi’s party, after it lost control of Milan, his political power base and home town, in May 2011, may be irreversible.

In contrast, the left-of-center Democratic Party, led by Pier Luigi Bersani, had 30.3 percent support in a SWG poll, compared with 30 percent on Nov. 30, and the anti-austerity Five Star Movement rose to 19.7 percent from 19.5 percent.

For all the buzz created by what Bersani calls Berlusconi’s “betrayal of his undertaking of a year ago” to support Monti, his return to politics may not be followed by a return of the votes he once attracted. Despite Berlusconi’s efforts, this could be the cue for a new government to be elected with a solid mandate for reform in Italy.

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