Berlusconi May Have Influence, But No Formal Position, In Italy's Government

Too controversial to include, but too powerful to ignore


Imagine a government in which some of the most powerful leaders lurk in the shadows, and lawmakers agree ahead of time to abstain from voting on key legislation. That may be where Italy is heading.

Pier Luigi Bersani, whose center-left party was the top vote getter in inconclusive national elections last month, is meeting today with representatives of the center-right People of Liberty (PDL) party and its ally, the Northern League, in hopes of cobbling together an ad hoc parliamentary majority. President Giorgio Napolitano has given Bersani until March 28 to show he can muster a majority.

Bersani's dilemma: how to draw the rightist parties into a new government without including Italy's dominant rightist political figure, former Premier Silvio Berlusconi? There's so much bad blood behind the two men—not to mention Berlusconi's ongoing legal troubles—that the former premier "could never participate in this government," says Franco Pavoncello, a political scientist who is president of John Cabot University in Rome.