Opponents of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi will gather in Rome today as part of 'No Berlusconi Day', a day of protests almost entirely organised by bloggers, twitterers and Facebook users.
Italy's controversial leader is facing problems on many fronts:
- The latest suggest that he has a history of links to the Sicilian Mafia, and that his former party, Forza Italia, was part-funded by the Mafia. He has dismissed the claims as "ridiculous, unfounded and infamous”.
- Hi wife, Veronica Lario, is demanding a divorce settlement of £39 million a year.
- Patrizia D’Addario (website), an escort, has published a book that in some detail recounts her alleged sexual experiences with Mr Berlusconi.
- A ruling by Italy's constitutional court means that he will go to trial
for allegedly having bribed UK lawyer, David Mills (estranged husband
of Labour MP, Tessa Jowell). Mr Berlusconi had passed a law to give him
immunity from prosecution but the court has overturned that law.
- The Economist reports that Mr Berlusconi's business empire is also under threat from the courts: "A Milan court asked Fininvest, the company at the heart of Mr Berlusconi’s business empire, for a €750m ($1.1 billion) bank guarantee. This was to show it could pay damages awarded to CIR, the holding company of Mr Berlusconi’s arch-rival, Carlo De Benedetti, in a case after the battle in the 1990s over the Mondadori publishing house. Fininvest’s lawyer was found to have bribed a judge to favour its bid. Mr Berlusconi’s company is appealing against the award, but if it fails, it may have to sell assets."
Ultimately the courts will probably move too slowly to oust Berlusconi but there are now signs of unhappiness within his right-wing coaltion. Gianfranco Fini, his junior partner in the 'Party of Liberty', was recorded saying that Berlusconi "confuses leadership with absolute monarchy". He continued that Mr Berlsconi was unable to distinguish between "popular consent, which he obviously has and which gives him a mandate to govern, and a sort of immunity from any other authority [such as] the magistracy, the audit court, the [top appeals court], the head of state or parliament".
Despite all of this Berlusconi remains popular. 49% of Italians approve of him in latest polls. But Fini is more popular. He has ratings of 60%. The Party of Liberty centre right coalition has an overall 48% to 42% opinion poll advantage over the centre left coalition.