Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s 17-year stint in Italian politics, which began with hope and optimism, ended in embarrassing shame on Saturday night.
After losing his majority in Parliament last Tuesday, he promised Italy’s president, Giorgio Napolitano, that he would resign once the two houses of Parliament passed a key austerity bill. Napolitano urged Italy’s top political officials not to delay in passing the bill, which moved through Parliament in record time, passing both houses by Saturday afternoon.
Growing concern on Friday that Berlusconi would somehow squeak out another month or two at the helm was replaced on Saturday by what seemed like an epiphany as the country realized he might finally be gone for good. Outside Rome’s Parliament, as the House of Deputies swiftly passed the bill, a crowd of revelers gathered, carrying signs touting Nov. 12, 2011, as Italy’s liberation day from Berlusconi’s hold. When the bill passed, the crowd erupted in celebration. Berlusconi was the last to leave Parliament Hall, prompting some observers to wonder if he was planning to put off the inevitable. He then held his last cabinet meeting before heading to the Grazioli Palace, his personal residence in the center of Rome.
By the time he arrived at his home, the crowd had made their way down Rome’s busy Via Del Corso to greet him, waving Italy’s tricolor flag and shouting, “Resign, resign!” Meanwhile, an even larger crowd began gathering in front of the Quirnale Palace, where President Napolitano waited for the embattled prime minister. There a professional choir had assembled, repeatedly singing the hymn “Hallelujah” a cappella. Berlusconi was expected to arrive at 8:30, but he was nearly a half hour late. In the meantime, the crowd sang partisan songs and shouted “Mafioso,” “buffoon,” and “Berlusconi is a piece of shit.” At times the scene felt like a sporting event, with the crowd resorting to chants normally reserved for out-of-favor soccer fans.
When Berlusconi’s motorcade finally arrived at the Quirnale Palace, fronted by an armored police riot van, the crowd went wild, screaming insults and spitting on the car. He was in the president’s palace for more than half an hour before escaping out a side exit, prompting the crowd to lunge toward his car before police pushed them back. Revelers threw confetti and popped prosecco corks to celebrate the end of a very long era. Berlusconi went back to his personal residence as the crowds followed and held vigil there, effectively trapping him inside.
On Sunday morning, Napolitano will begin the difficult work of laying out Italy’s next phase. He is expected to appoint academic and former European Union commissioner Mario Monti as a caretaker prime minister, tasking him with forming a cabinet of technocrats who have no political interests to pass the remaining austerity measures meant to get Italy’s economy back on track. He will then have to set a date for early elections, paving the way for what many worry will be a period marked with political uncertainty. As for Berlusconi, he will spend the time coming to terms with how he went from being Italy’s favorite and longest-serving prime minister to one who was forced out in shame.