Friday, July 13, 2012

The Mummy Returns

When Margaret Thatcher made an unscheduled speech to a Tory election rally in Plymouth, the local cinema was showing “The Mummy returns”. She started her speech by mentioning this and adding “It turns out you did know I was coming after all” a nice self-deprecating touch for someone who was normally not very modest. This week has seen a flurry of speculation that another mummy, Italy’s most famous embalmed creature (and admirer of Mrs. T), Silvio Berlusconi, might be making his return.

Last week, Silvio Berlusconi told one of his family papers, Il Giornale, “I’m going on a diet, I’ll lose five or six kilos and then in September I’ll decide” while the rival L’Espresso put his possible return on the cover. Then his designated successor, Angelino Alfano gave the game away by saying that he would be the first person to support Berlusconi as a leader in the next elections.

It is not exactly clear what role Berlusconi will play in the campaign. The journalist and parliamentarian, Furio Colombo who cannot abide Berlusconi, is sure that he will not go as far going for the prime ministership because the likely defeat would be too painful. I am not so sure.

He has two major interests to safeguard; control of the RAI, its programming and publicity or if not control, then a strong influence. Secondly, being able to condition and pilot any changes in the criminal law or procedure. It is true that he can look after these without being centre-stage. Indeed, over the last few weeks there has been a bitter struggle over the RAI’s new president, director-general and board which at the moment Berlusconi is winning but without appearing in the first person. His people have key posts in the parliamentary committees which would oversee any law reform so, again, his position is strong.

But at the same time, he has an impelling psychological need to be the centre of attention. He has always been a performer and is clearly not going to give up now. Add to that, power is probably the strongest drug available and once tasted it is very difficult to kick the habit. It would be wonderful to savour the taste of victory in the company of world leaders who have so obviously shown their distaste for him.

It was clear from the start that Alfano was a lightweight, a dummy made of papier maché, not meant to eclipse his master intellectually, politically or even, despite being half Berlusconi’s age, physically. The dummy was ready to be shifted whenever necessary and this is what has happened. The possibility that the PdL might have some form of primary to chose their leader has been dropped completely now with Berlusconi the undisputed chief. However they might have run it, a primary would have been very divisive as all the potential leaders have been showing undignified squabbling. Opinion polls done for Berlusconi apparently show that with Alfano as leader, the PdL would poll 8-12%, with B as elder statesman in the background 17-20%, and as leader, a full 28%.

Berlusconi has been taking an increasingly active part in public life. Last month he suggested that Italy might leave the euro. He has weighed in to the debate over electoral and constitutional reform, repeating that he would like to see a French style semi-presidential system with, of course, him as the president. He gave specific instructions to the PdL senators that they a should attend the debate on semipresidentialism, an issue much closer to his heart than any change in the electoral system.

As a matter of fact, Berlusconi never went away.

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