Sylvio Berlusconi, the Italian Prime Minister, is simply an Italian phenomenon. Berlusconi began life as a Milanese entrepreneur and Forbes ranks him as Italy's third richest man, estimated to own assets worth $9 billion in 2010, in the fields of television, newspapers, publishing, cinema, finance, banking, insurance, and even sport. He owns Italy’s biggest media company, Mediaset, which owns three national television channels, and Italy’s most successful football club, AC Milan.
Berlusconi is the second longest-serving Prime Minister of Italy, a position he has held on three separate occasions: from 1994 to 1995, from 2001 to 2006 and currently since 2008. He has managed to provide a country with notoriously unstable governments with political continuity. Continuity has not been necessarily accompanied by stability. Berlusconi has been beset by one scandal after another. Some of them are salacious like his affairs with underage prostitutes and make good press. Other scandals are more worrying and include collusion with the mafia, false accounting, tax fraud, corruption and bribery of police officers and judges. More interestingly, Berlusconi has repeatedly changed laws making it difficult for prosecutors to investigate or convict him.
Berlusconi is a great survivor and defeated a vote of no-confidence tabled against him at the end of last year. He has been helped by the opposition’s weakness and the cynicism of Italian voters who have lost faith in politics as a whole. Fair Observer examines the phenomenon of Berlusconi and tries to figure out where Italy is headed with or without him.