Silvio Berlusconi Era Likely to End Soon in Italy

Silvio Berlusconi - Political Plans and Legal Charges
Johannes Eisele/AFP/Getty Images

Italian media tycoon Silvio Berlusconi has often been seen as the teflon media mogul - always facing legal and other charges, but never really facing consequences. In Oct. 2012 though, a court sentenced the head of media group Mediaset, whose stock has been dropping amid weak ad trends, to four years in prison in a tax evasion case - marking the first time he is facing time behind bars. And just before Christmas, prosecutors also called for a prison sentence of at least one year for Berlusconi on charges of publishing information about a political rival that was obtained illegally. The three-time prime minister, meanwhile, announced he would run for a fourth term in early 2013 after having left political office in late 2011.

The prime minister-media kingpin failed to grab the majority on a parliamentary vote and it is likely he will either step down or be asked to leave.

ROME – The Silvio Berlusconi era in Italy appears to be drawing to a close, after the media kingpin-turned-prime minister failed to muster a majority on a key parliamentary vote Tuesday, leaving Berlusconi will few options except to resign.

Though the vote was on a public finance issue, it was seen as a proxy vote for Berlusconi’s government. After a biting defeat, in which 308 members of the lower house voted for the Berlusconi-led measure and 321 abstained, it was clear his coalition had hemorrhaged too many votes. In October, Berlusconi won a similar standoff 316-301.

Berlusconi had been defiant leading up to the vote, using the three Mediaset networks he controls and the three state-owned RAI networks to vow he would hold onto power and blasting his critics as “criminal” and “unpatriotic.” But after the votes were counted, the embattled prime minister was conspicuously silent.

Baring a miraculous last-minute effort to attract enough new members to cobble together a new majority, the coming hours or days will likely see Berlusconi step down or be asked to leave by the country’s president.

If that indeed happens, it will likely end a political career in which Berlusconi has led Italy for 11 of the last 17 years, all the while controlling the country’s largest media empire.

His control of Mediaset -- and indirect control of RAI as prime minister -- has been a key tool in his vice-like grip on power, using it to mold public opinion and silence opposition.

But it has also caused him problems, sparking complaints about a conflict of interest and contributing to two of the prime minister’s three open lawsuits, including charges that he evaded paying taxes by using a kickback deal on a movie rights deal, and that he paid a British lawyer to lie for him in court in an older case tied to Mediaset’s film subsidiary Medusa.