Silvio Berlusconi has always vaunted two major talents – an ability to control the media (both his own – a substantial slice of tv and print – as well as those supposedly independent), and a masterful ability to keep together seemingly shakey partnerships. It’s against this backdrop that his second wife, Veronica Lario, dropped a bombshell over the weekend when she made it known, via the newspapers, that she was initiating divorce proceedings.
And it’s clear from the way things developed last week that this will be anything but a private matter, partly because at the heart of the rift is Berlusconi’s very personal way of running the Italian political system.
It all started, apparently, when Lario in public criticised Berlusconi’s list of candidates chosen for the upcoming European Elections. A number of young attractive women were included in the lists, and Lario alongside others speculated that their talents, and the motivations for their candidatures were far from political. Berlusconi smiled it off, suggesting that his wife had been hoodwinked by that ever-lurking menace the left-wing press, but nonetheless did make changes to the list. Things may have settled down had the newspaper il Giornale, owned by the Berlusconi family, not chosen to publish topless photos of Lario from her acting days, effectively branding her a hypocrite.
It’s not the first time that Lario has taken a swipe at her husband in the newspapers, nor the first time that the relationship between his political judgement and personal relationships has been called into question. So, most presumed that the Cavaliere Berlusconi would resolve things with some roses and some public declaration of undying love – the usual melodrama.
What’s more interesting, at least to this prurient monkey’s mind, is another serious relationship Berlusconi has been tending to for years – that with his coalition partners the Lega Nord. If his marriage with Lario, which has lasted through various scandals and difficulties, can be taken as a metaphor for his political style – and its our contention that it can – then it bodes ill for his coalition which faces some stormy waters ahead.
The current coaltion is made up primarily of three partners – Forza Italia and Alleanza Nazionale, both of whom have merged into one party il Popolo della Liberta, and the Lega Nord. The Lega, with its xenophobic history and radical measures (fingerprinting gypsy children, for example), holds the balance of power effectively in the current government. If it walks, the government falls.
And walk it may just, given that Berlusconi’s party is campaigning softly softly for a yes vote in the upcoming referendum to cancel the 2006 electoral law introduced by the Lega. The current electoral law awards a majority prize of seats to the winning coalition in any election – so, for example, when the Forza Italia, Alleanaza Nazionale, and Lega Nord ticket won the 2008 election, these extra seats were divided between each of the parties. If the electoral law, described by its author Lega Nord MP Roberto Calderoli as a ‘porcata’ or dirty trick – albeit one decidedly in his party’s favour, is overturned things revert back to the previous electoral law which awards the majority seats to the winning party, not coalition. The Lega would find their influence severely diminished, and should Berlusconi call a snap election he could – presuming that his opinion polls are correct – win an indpendent majority.
So what will Bossi and Berlusconi do between now and the end of June when the referendum is held? Will this marriage of convenience, which held against-the-odds for the whole of the previous Berlusconi administration, last? Or will we take a step back in time to 1994 when Umberto Bossi pulled the Lega out of Berlusconi’s government prompting Berlusconi to declare that he would never sit at a table, or participate in government with Bossi again.