Silvio Berlusconi, who spent nearly two decades atop the world of Italian politics, resigned as prime minister Saturday night after lawmakers rushed through a budget bill seen as the first step toward winning back investor confidence and preventing the collapse of the world’s eighth-largest economy.
The resignation ends a political era punctuated by headlines of Berlusconi’s “bunga bunga” sex parties and allegations of corruption that polarized the nation. Ultimately forced out of office by a debt crisis instead of personal scandal, the flamboyant billionaire’s departure appeared to pave the way for a staid, serious economist, Mario Monti, to attempt to form an interim government and try to pull Italy back from the brink.
Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi resigned Saturday after parliament's lower chamber passed European-demanded reforms, ending a 17-year political era. (Nov. 12)
As a last act of the Berlusconi government — one he had demanded before resigning — a confrontational lower house gave final approval Saturday to a budget bill that was passed by the Senate on Friday and that contains measures insisted on by the European Union. But the bill is seen as only a precursor to a far more controversial and far-reaching economic package that observers hope Monti can push through in the coming weeks. The broader package’s passage will be vital, economists say, to kick-starting Italy’s moribund economy and quelling investor doubts about Italy’s ability to service its $2.6 trillion debt.
After the vote, Berlusconi, 75, rode to Rome’s grand Quirinal Palace, a former home of popes, to tender his resignation to Italy’s ceremonial head of state, President Giorgio Napolitano.
Berlusconi now tops a list of European leaders — including those in Greece, Ireland and Portugal — who have unceremoniously lost their jobs in the turmoil of the region’s two-year-old debt crisis. Crowds of demonstrators, responding to the momentous occasion, erupted in a joyous yell and waved Italian flags as news spread of Berlusconi’s resignation. One group sang choruses of “Hallelujah” to celebrate his departure.
Italian politicians were coming under intense international pressure — including from President Obama and French President Nicolas Sarkozy — to rally around a credible figure to lead a new unity government.
On Saturday, Italy’s notoriously divided political classes were in fierce negotiations over fresh leadership, with some still calling for snap elections that could leave Italy stuck in a power vacuum for months. But Monti, a 68-year-old professor and former European Commission member, still appeared to be the top candidate to head an emergency government.
Berlusconi was reported to be willing to throw his still substantial weight behind Monti if a number of conditions were met, including that the new government should exist only until the broader economic reforms are passed, after which new elections would be called. But his right-wing coalition partners, the Northern League, remained opposed to a unity government, and Berlusconi’s own party was divided, expressing deep resentment over global markets and foreign leaders seeking to influence Italian democracy.