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After losing parliament, Berlusconi waits in political purgatory

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's parliamentary coalition fell apart this summer. Now plagued with dropping approval ratings, the billionaire businessman-turned-politician is on the political war path.

Silvio Berlusconi

Berlusconi's approval is currently around 37 percent

After a series of political gaffes and scandals, Italy's media mogul-prime minister Silvio Berlusconi finds himself politically vulnerable, faced with low approval ratings and the threat of losing elections.

Berlusconi, 73, lost his precarious coalition of former fascists, separatist northerners and his own supporters this summer. In addition, the son of a mafia kingpin alleges Berlusconi paid his father millions of euros in the 1990s.

Then at a youth convention of his People of Freedom party on Sunday, Berlusconi made headlines by suggesting young women should look for wealthy boyfriends. Also this week, close ally Giorgio Stracquadanio sparked broad criticism for saying it was "totally legitimate" for women to use their bodies to kick-start their careers.

Coalition collapse

Gianfranco Fini and Silvio Berlusconi

Fini (left) refused to support Berlusconi-backed legislation

Serious trouble for the prime minister began this summer, when the People of Freedom Party fell apart. Berlusconi kicked out the coalition's co-founder Gianfranco Fini after he refused to back legislation to help get Berlusconi escape corruption charges.

After the ally's banishment, Berlusconi lost 30 other parliamentarians who backed Fini - and his majority in parliament.

The prime minister has since been on the political offensive. He insists that even without Fini, his coalition with the Northern League still has the support of more than half of Italy's voters.

Dropping approval

But in light of current statistics, political analysts disagree. Berlusconi's approval ratings are about 37 percent, according to a recent poll, down more than four percent from a public opinion poll taken in May.

"Italy's government is in serious trouble at the moment," James Walston, professor of international relations at the American University in Rome, told Deutsche Welle. "Berlusconi no longer has a majority. He's been trying these last few days to get allies from centrist parties, but so far he doesn't seem to have succeeded."

The first test of Berlusconi's ability to stay in power comes at the end of the month, when parliament votes on a five-point plan for reviving Italy's stagnant economy.

Protestors hold up critical Berlusconi effigy

Berlusconi's image has been deteriorating as the public expresses their frustration with him

Political preoccupation

Walston says the controversial Italian leader will likely win the vote because the Fini coalition does not want to be forced into elections before it gains enough support to have a chance at winning. And Berlusoni's own party is just as vulnerable.

"(Berlusconi) is not in favor of immediate elections," said Walston. "He will lose some support to the Northern League, and he might not win the Senate."

Yet with Italy on a slow path out of recession, Italians are more concerned about their country's economy than their leader's political woes. Revised economic figures last week showed Italy's gross domestic product expanding a modest 0.5 percent in the second quarter of 2010, with an even lower recovery forecast for the third quarter.

Author: Megan Williams in Rome (acb)
Editor: Rob Turner

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