Francois Lenoir / Reuters
Italy's Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi leaves a Euro zone leaders summit in Brussels on Oct. 27, 2011.
Claudio Lavanga, NBC News Producer
ROME – Italy’s Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi made his name as a businessman. He has, of course, become more famous for a series of sex scandals.
So it is ironic that Berlusconi, who has survived throughout his almost 18 years in power such an unprecedented sequence of embarrassing setbacks that would have seen the demise of any other leader in the democratic world, may end up defeated by what he should have known best: the economy.
The ultimate survivor
Berlusconi is undoubtedly one of the biggest survivors in the history of Italian politics. Despite facing several legal actions, some of which are still ongoing, for abuse of office, corruption and most recently for allegedly having sex with an underage prostitute, he has been elected four times. In that most recent case, trouble came when he hastened the release from a police station of “Ruby the Heart Stealer” by claiming, falsely, that she was the niece of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak (despite the fact that she was, in fact, Moroccan).
And yet his biggest achievement to date, perhaps, is the ability to hold together hundreds of notoriously volatile parliamentarians who, in the history of Italian democracy, have swapped sides so many times that governments, usually, wouldn’t last longer than the foam on a cappuccino.
Despite his domestic approval rating being at an all-time low, and his credibility in the international scene irreparably undermined by his failure to introduce much-needed reforms to fix the economy, he has so far managed to convince his allies to stand by him.
His advocates say his survival can be attributed to his political prowess and his leadership skills. His critics say he simply bought their loyalty by repaying their support with funds and power seats, effectively turning the government into a parliamentarian swap-market.
Now it looks like he was beaten in his own game.
Italy: a bankrupt business
Before he entered politics in 1994, Berlusconi was one of the most noted businessmen in Italy, and one of the country’s richest men. After a stint as an entertainer on cruise ships, he became a property mogul, and later founded Mediaset, the first nationwide private broadcasting corporation, which is now a multi-billion dollar empire.
When Italy’s politics went through a generational change following a corruption scandal that broke down the government and its political system, he founded a party from scratch in a matter of months, and easily won election. He pledged to run Italy as he run his businesses, and considering his impressive track record, Italians gave him a wild card that lasted almost two decades.
It is now clear that if Italy had been one of his companies, it would be close to bankruptcy by now. Its debt, standing at 120 percent of the national GDP, is skyrocketing. There has been no growth for a number of years. And unsurprisingly, Berlusconi’s would be board of directors, the parliamentarians, are quickly abandoning him.