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Berlusconi faces regional election test as allegations of corruption mount against him

Last weekend Silvio Berlusconi addressed a rally in Rome of 150,000 supporters with the soundtrack to Star Wars as his musical backing. “Love always wins over envy and hatred” was the slogan of an event designed to get his party's candidates reinstated for important regional elections in Lazio. The candidates were disqualified after party officials had failed to register the candidates in time. Despite legal appeals and a special Cabinet decree Lazio's electoral officials aren't budging. Intriguingly for close watchers of divisions within Italy's Right, Gianfranco Fini, the co-founder of the Berlusconi-led People of Freedom Party, did not take part in the rally. Fini has previously accused Berlusconi of "Caesarism" and will challenge the Italian Prime Minister if his popularity slides further.

Mr Berlusconi's slide in approval ratings - from 62% when re-elected to a still reasonable 44% now - coincide with more evidence of his ambitions to suppress scrutiny of him. Wiretapped conversations of Italy's Prime Minister have emerged. In them Berlusconi demands that an independent regulator stops programmes scheduled to investigate his alleged corruption.

For Bill Emmott, former Editor of The Economist, the good news for Berlusconi is that he's not the only corrupt one. He argues that corruption is endemic throughout Italian life and politics:

"When the country had its previous great political corruption scandal, in the early 1990s, it seemed as if one dirty system might be ending and that a new, cleaner one could gradually emerge. The series of scandals that began in early February with allegations of corruption over public contracts for earthquake relief in the province of Abruzzo last year have shown that, if anything, the system is now even dirtier. Barely a day goes by without another disturbing allegation of fraud, corruption or simple abuse of power, generally in politics and government but also in business.

The good news for Mr Berlusconi is that the dirt is everywhere: opposition politicians have also been caught with their fingers in tills and, yes, with their pants down. The bad news for him, though, is that the scandals have also badly dented his main boast, namely that he and his people have a monopoly on competence. The broader moral, however, is that, while Mr Berlusconi has not created all this malfeasance single-handedly, he bears a heavy responsibility for its persistence and spread, and for the culture of impunity it reflects."


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