For Berlusconi, politics is a piece of cake
Non-Italians may struggle to understand why Italy has let Silvio Berlusconi become (as of two days ago) its longest-serving leader in post-war history, and the foreign media dedicates often indignant editorials and articles to the subject. But the centre-right leader himself put it very succinctly to a conservative youth meeting in Rome this week, “I have 68 percent support because the people are like me: they love women, football, life and someone who gets things done and does so much for his country.”
At the same meeting, the 72-year-old leader responded to another day of newspaper revelations about his sex life (two newspapers reported that 30 young women had attended parties at his home, with some them paid 1,000 euros to sleep with him) by sticking defiantly to the jocose style of politics that he repeatedly says is the secret to his success (he calls it “la politica del cucu” or “hide-and-seek politics”, referring to a practical joke he once played on an unimpressed Angela Merkel).
Berlusconi, the father of five and a grandfather, invited all the girls in the audience of young militants from the centre right to “give me their phone numbers”.
Last weekend Berlusconi had extended the same invitation to the female host of the new Tunisian-based Mahgreb television channel Nessma (in which his family business empire is reported to have a stake ). After recalling his earlier incarnation as a cruiseship crooner, the smiling Berlusconi said to the programme’s host: “And your phone number?”
This attitude helps explain why many Italians have little difficulty believing in the reports about the prime minister’s partygoing private life. He himself only denies that he ever paid for sex, not that some of the young women in question stayed overnight at his apartment in Rome or attended parties at his villa in Sardinia. But, as Reuters Television found out when asking people on the streets of the capital whether all these revelations could bring down the premier, as some of his critics and even allies have been suggesting in recent days (see our story from yesterday), many Italians think such behaviour is either perfectly acceptable, irrevelant to politics, or they are resigned to the fact that it will not have a political impact.
“I think in private everybody is free to do what they want,” said Rome resident Giovanni Cravero, while Giulia Fratelli told us that it “would not be fair” if it did prove Berlusconi’s undoing.
Many Italians clearly find Berlusconi’s uninhibited style to be a faithful reflection of the country’s mentality, rather than an insult to women. Few politicians take him to task for his blatantly sexist comments and would probably be accused of being overly “moralistic” or hypocritical if they did, especially since the court case in Bari that is digging up most of the dirt about Berlusconi’s private life has spattered some centre-left opposition figures too.
The prime minister, a former construction mogul who is the owner of AC Milan football club and of Italy’s largest private broadcaster Mediaset, often cites his background in business as the key to his political success, contrasting it with rivals who have spent their entire working lives in politics.
Despite all the debate in Italian political and journalistic circles this week about whether the “Berlusconi era” is coming to an end, he still has the support of about half the country, according to opinion polls (though that falls far short of his own privately commissioned polls, which are never published). Perhaps part of the explanation can be found in the entrepreneurial energy with which he has addressed the reconstruction of L’Aquila, which was hit by an earthquake in April.
Bringing a salesman’s touch to politics, Berlusconi promised that the 30,000 people in the area made homeless by the earthquake would all have nice new homes, with all mod cons, by December — “beautiful houses, with lawns out front. And in the fridge I will put cake, some bubbly and a note wishing them a nice life in their new home.”
Why do you think Silvio Berlusconi still has the support of about half the country? What do you think of his style of leadership?