Berlusconi and PdL party secretary Angelino Alfano have also made it clear that another reason for their decision to abandon Monti's government is the lack of progress on justice reform, though they have a fairly unique understanding of that concept. When Berlusconi was prime minister and Alfano was justice minister, they did nothing to answer the most pressing issue facing Italian justice: the years it takes to reach a definitive sentence. This is not only a problem of equity and justice but a serious discouragement to investment; no one is going to invest in Italy if they can't expect the courts to decide civil cases.
Berlusconi's main concern, by contrast, is that judges and magistrates should bear
personal civil liability for their actions. In his ideal world, if a
prosecution fails, the prosecutor should be personally liable for damages to
the accused. It is a measure that smells of vendetta, as well as a way to
discourage any prosecutor, not just the over-zealous. His other hobbyhorse is
limiting police use of telephone taps. It is no coincidence that wire taps,
both those used in court proceedings and those leaked to the media, like the
conversations of the girls who went to his parties, have been very damaging to
According to current polls, a return to power would still be a long shot for Berlusconi. The center-right is on a downward slope at the moment; they lost regional elections in Sicily in October, and the PdL is currently polling anywhere between 12 and 20 percent nationwide, a disaster compared to the 37 percent they garnered in 2008. Monti had been polling at around 47 percent prior to his announcement. But it's definitely to Berlusconi's advantage to have the election sooner -- when public anger against Monti's pro-European, pro-austerity policies is high -- rather than later, when party infighting will only drag the PdL further down.
There's also a new player on the scene whose emergence may be to the former prime minister's advantage. The Five Star Movement, a recently created party led by the popular comedian Beppe Grillo -- a kind of Genoese Stephen Colbert -- has emerged as the second most popular party in the country, according to pollsters. The party's ideology is mostly left-wing but is defined more by anger against Italy's traditional parties and politics. Berlusconi, though often a target of Grillo's barbs himself, hopes to tap into this discontent and regain some of the alienated center-right voters who have embraced the new party's populist, euroskeptic message. About half of Italy's electorate is either undecided or planning not to vote. They do not like Monti's austerity measures or the old parties. If Berlusconi can mobilize even a small proportion of them, he will increase his share enormously.
The consequences of Berlusconi's threatened return have already been felt. The spread between German and Italian government bonds, which had dipped below 300 for the first time since early last year, immediately jumped to well over 300 after his announcement last week, a tangible demonstration that Berlusconi's claim to be "saving the Italian economy" was nonsense. European stocks plunged on Monday following news of Monti's departure and the potential of Berlusconi's return. It now falls to the old triumvirate of President Giorgio Napolitano, the European Union, and the markets to persuade Berlusconi to step back. If they fail, Italy may once again find itself at the mercy of the Silviosaur.