ROME – In his farewell video, Italy's former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi said that he was not going to give up politics -- on the contrary, he would double his efforts to change the country. His supporters have been doing their bit too, on the streets, with posters, and on air. On the face of it, there is no reason to presume that Mr. Bunga Bunga has gone bye-bye for good.
Indeed, it was not really a farewell message at all. After Berlusconi resigned, he pointed out -- quite correctly -- that he had survived a vote of confidence and that he still has an absolute majority in the Senate, where he has already said that he can pull the plug on Mario Monti's new government whenever he wants. And even as he made this threat, Berlusconi declared that his resignation had been "statesman-like"; in his version, he gave up power for the good of the country.
It was significant that The Economist titled its article "Addio Silvio" (goodbye, Silvio) not "Arriverderci" (see you again) -- a hope rather than a statement. But those celebrating his resignation in Rome last Saturday were too smart to think either that the country's problems were over or that Berlusconi had left for good. There has been no political equivalent of the stake through the heart; a resounding defeat either in Parliament or at the polls.
There were even suggestions last week that one of the reasons Berlusconi stepped down was the dip in shares of his television empire, Mediaset. On Wednesday, they tumbled 12.5 percent. Perhaps the conflict of interest in owning a large chunk of the Italian media had come back to bite him hard and where it hurts -- in his wallet. An alternate theory held that by leaving office, Berlusconi and his companies would have to forego lucrative government publicity contracts. The fact that both theses are plausible shows how deep the marriage between public and private interest was (is?) in Berlusconi's Italy.
Even though his departure seemed sudden, it was controlled and planned. His video message aired across the networks. And although he looked very drawn and tired, his words were as buoyant as the old days. The fact that a prime minister bowed out with a special message is exceptional -- normally, Italian leaders confine themselves to a short statement conceding defeat and wishing their successors well. Not Silvio Berlusconi. He is not the retiring type.
There is a real possibility that he will make another run for power either in the near future, if the Monti government shows itself unable to calm the markets and elections are called early next year, or in 2013, when the legislature reaches its natural term, even if Monti is successful in bringing Italy's massive debt under control. To do it, Monti will have made Italians pay a high price economically and socially and the political parties will be able to blame him rather than themselves. Given Berlusconi's reluctance to support Monti, he will try and present himself as the return to the good times.