Italian premier faces key vote Wednesday alone

December 18, 1994|By New York Times News Service

ROME -- Silvio Berlusconi, Italy's billionaire prime minister, made much of his money by offering soap operas and game shows and high-kick dancers on commercial television stations that drew almost half the country's viewers.

For a man who won power in part by deploying his vast corporate resources in advertising and television, the unraveling his political fortunes has seemed an extraordinarily unscripted spectacle.

Last week the prime minister was summoned before investigating magistrates in Milan to face seven hours of interrogation about suspected corruption at Fininvest, his business empire, an allegation he denies.

Sworn into office in May, he now faces a confidence vote in Parliament Wednesday with a crucial coalition ally openly threatening to desert.

Perhaps most striking of all is the sense that Mr. Berlusconi, a 58-year-old media tycoon who entered politics only in January, has personalized the political fray to the extent that he stands virtually alone at center stage, equating his own survival with the national interest. Sometimes he sounds like an aggrieved movie star -- undermined by the studio, beloved by the fans.

Calling the charges against him a conspiracy, Mr. Berlusconi said the other day that it was "so vast that it can be compared to a coup d'etat," and was not just against Silvio Berlusconi but "the credibility of a new political process, which has won the approval of the popular vote."

Mr. Berlusconi's future is so much in doubt that both Chancellor Helmut Kohl of Germany and Prime Minister John Major of Britain have declined to set firm dates in early 1995 for meetings with him.

But, in many ways, it is symptomatic of Mr. Berlusconi's style of leadership that there are few in his entourage whom he can blame for his troubles.

From the start, his Forza Italia ("Go Italy!") movement was established as a loosely organized marketing vehicle for the election of Mr. Berlusconi. His closest advisers are the same people who formed his inner circle in business.

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