Until now, there has been no talk of the man they call ‘the Cavalier’ leaving the prime minister’s office before the end of his term in 2013.
But that has all changed. Now the question is how long the agony of Berlusconi’s government will drag on.
The political crisis has been fuelled in recent weeks by Rubygate which centres on a teenage nighclub dancer who received 7,000 euros from Berlusconi after attending one of his private parties when she was a minor.
To make matters worse he hinted that he had intervened with the police to get her released from custody while she was suspected of theft.
Berlusconi might well have survived a string of sex scandals already but his former ally Gianfranco Fini is gambling that the Italian public have had enough of his antics.
Last week Berlusconi further inflamed public opinion by trying to deflect unwelcome attention with a homophobic joke.
“Sometimes I might look at a beautiful woman,” he said. “It’s better to have a passion for beautiful women than to be gay.”
Italy is laughing less and less.
The prime minister’s popularity is at its lowest.
And he has lost the support of Italy’s business leaders who are furious about the paralysis in government at a time of severe economic difficulty.
It is a paralysis that could continue whatever the outcome of the crisis.
Everything will be played out in the coming days before Italy’s elected respresentatives.
The former president of the Constitutional Court
Piero Alberto Capotosti said: “At this point, given that prime minister Berlusconi is not resigning, it will inevitablly have to go before parliament, which will have to make its voice heard with a vote of no confidence.”
It is too early to say if Fini will succeed in rallying enough MPs to stand against Berlusconi.
But with the conservatives divided, and the left wing unable to solve their own internal squabblings, Italy has seldom seen such an impasse.