Berlusconi blitzes back to power with old friends and a showgirl
Silvio Berlusconi's new government was sworn in yesterday afternoon, completing a changing of the guard from the government of Romano Prodi transacted at blinding speed by Italian standards.
Mr Berlusconi left opponents, allies and media observers gasping as he breezed into the head of state's office on Wednesday with a full list of ministers already prepared. Such a thing has never happened before in messy, snail-pace, fudge-happy post-war Italy, where allocating portfolios among a baffling variety of parties often takes weeks.
And over three weeks of talks, Mr Berlusconi has left his coalition allies, the post-Fascist National Alliance and the secessionist Northern League, in no doubt that this time around he will be the boss. The top jobs go to Berlusconi loyalists. Another sure sign of the Forza Italia leader's deciding vote is the fact that all four women in the cabinet are strikingly good- looking, and include the former showgirl Mara Carfagna (32) (who has a law degree) as equal opportunities minister.
The average age of the new cabinet is 50, remarkably low for Italy; but the average age of the women ministers -- Mr Berlusconi calls them bambini, "the kids" -- is 34.
Mr Berlusconi has been aided in his efforts to speed things up by the fact that the last election, at which he won a handsome majority, saw the number of parties represented in parliament shrink dramatically from 26 to six. He is also aided by Italy's desperate financial situation: with growth close to zero, there is an awareness that tough decisions must be taken.
Neither of the immediate crises awaiting Mr Berlusconi's attention -- the imminent bankruptcy of Alitalia and the rubbish disaster in Naples -- offer easy or comfortable solutions. Mr Berlusconi wasted months of parliamentary time between 2001 and 2006 forcing through laws to extract himself from legal difficulties, but this time he must do things differently.
A commanding prime minister is a novelty in post-war Italy. Not any more, says the media billionaire.
"I have five years to change the country," Mr Berlusconi said.
The outside world may have to adjust to the novelty of a Berlusconi bereft of gags. (© Independent News Service)