"Silvio Berlusconi is a radioactive leader." This quip from a top member of President Barack Obamas administration at the conclusion of last weeks G8 summit in Deauville, France, captured the feeling among many global leaders at the summit, who felt awkward dealing with the Italian prime minister who kept complaining about alleged judiciary conspiracies against him. Radioactive is also how a growing number of Italians view Berlusconi.
In local elections across Italy on Monday, all the major candidates who were personally supported by Berlusconi were soundly defeated. In Milan, the premiers hometown, Giuliano Pisapia is the first center-left candidate to be elected mayor in 17 years, beating the incumbent conservative mayor Letizia Moratti. A wind of change is blowing across the country.
Silvio Berlusconi has lost his famous gut connection with the majority of Italians. Since the beginning of his private television business in the 1980s, the current prime minister has always been able to understand and predict the Italians moods and dreams. He promised Italians, first as his customers, then as his voters, that he would make their dreams come true. Now, something has changed, and it is not just a consequence of the judiciary investigations. Berlusconi no longer seems to understand what is happening in the minds and lives of the Italian people.
There is a deep financial crisis, people are spending their savings, and youth unemployment has increased dramatically. The electoral campaign of Berlusconis coalition was all about justice reform. But this subject does not earn votes. For years, Mr. Berlusconi has won thanks for his promises to cut taxes. Now, he has convinced himself that his fellow Italians are as mad as he is at judges and at the political left.
So new and unpredictable candidates who were pictured as too left wing and not expert enough -- have won. The government is the real loser. The Northern League party, the governing coalitions chief partner, is traditionally very strong in many northern Italys cities and towns. Even there, the center-right coalition lost many of the local elections.
For years, Italian electoral campaigns have all revolved around Berlusconi and his promises, with his opponents left to try their best to campaign against them. This time, the roles were reversed. Mr. Berlusconi played against his opponents. For months, the center-right campaign aimed to destroy the images of its center-left opponents. In Milan, Mr. Pisapia was pictured as a close friend of gypsies and Muslims. The campaign was so heavy-handed that it had the effect to push away those centrist voters who five years ago helped Moratti win.
Speaking with the US President about his judiciary battles and insulting the judges was Mr. Berlusconis final mistake. He could have tried to obtain Mr. Obamas commitment in Libya to help stem immigration from North Africa. The Italians would have appreciated that. Instead, he was set on his obsession.
Forecasting what will happen next is hard. Berlusconi is tough, with an endless capacity for self-reinvention and he will fight until the end. But Mondays vote shows that he is no longer able to read the minds, guts, and hearts of the voters. Once this instinct is gone, a politicians career is inevitably arriving at its final lap.
Read the original article in Italian
photo - (epp)