AFTER all the sexcapades, key members of Silvio Berlusconi’s coalition government declared yesterday that enough was enough.
Four ministers loyal to Mr Berlusconi’s erstwhile ally, Gianfranco Fini, walked out of the Italian Prime Minister’s administration.
The move, which reduces Mr Berlusconi’s coalition to an unstable minority government, marked the formal start of a much-anticipated political crisis that could lead to early elections and even the end of the Berlusconi era.
“The betrayal has begun,” observed Maurizio Sacconi, the Welfare Minister and a Berlusconi loyalist.
The mass resignation, likely to be followed by a vote of no confidence around Christmas, leaves Mr Berlusconi weakened but not finished.
“Berlusconi’s government will not survive, but Berlusconi will – at least in the medium term,” said James Walston, a professor of political science at the American University in Rome.
“It’s much more likely to be the Grim Reaper who deals with him . . . Either that, or he is going to do a bunk and go off to Antigua.”
Mr Berlusconi, 74, a cruise ship crooner turned media tycoon worth an estimated $US9 billion ($9.1bn), is the third-richest man in Italy.
Longstanding corruption investigations have been compounded in the past two years by a series of what Americans call “bimbo eruptions”.
The Italian public now finds itself on first-name terms with women such as Noemi, Patrizia, Nadia and the 17-year-old belly dancer Ruby.
With the Constitutional Court due to rule on Mr Berlusconi’s temporary immunity from prosecution on December 14, the Prime Minister has made attempts to pass legislation to shield him from corruption inquiries. The result has been political paralysis.
The defecting ministers were Andrea Ronchi, the Minister for Europe, Adolfo Urso, the Deputy Minister of Industry, and two under-secretaries.