Berlusconi will exit 

We don’t pay much attention to Italy here in Washington, but in London the Daily Telegraph is reporting that Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi says he will step down at the time of the scheduled 2013 election. As the article explains, he faces various legal challenges. This would bring to an end a tempestuous political career that has lasted nearly 20 years.

In the early 1990s, with the collapse of the Christian Democratic party and the obsolescence of the opposition Communist party—as I like to say, both were based on faiths that few Italians shared any more, Catholicism and Communism—Berlusconi, one of the richest men in Italy and owner of its private television networks, formed a new center-right party, originally called Forza Italia (that’s a soccer cheer), which allied with the regionalist Northern League.

It has dominated Italian politics for much of the last two decades. Berlusconi served as prime minister in 1994-96, 2001-06 and again since 2008. He says that his successor will be Justice Minister Angelino Alfano, a Sicilian lawyer whom I’ve never heard of.

Berlusconi’s party’s greatest electoral strength has been in his home town of Milano and surrounding Lombardia and in Sicily—an unlikely regional coalition. Berlusconi has been a strong American ally in most respects, but he had a soft spot for Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi and has one for Russia’s Vladimir Putin as well. What’s ahead for Italy? Hard to say. The opposition is weak, his named successor is not widely known and it’s not clear who or what will be able to hold together his current coalition.

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Michael Barone

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