He has resisted pressure to resign all week but today Silvio Berlusconi finally stepped down, bowing to demands from rebel parties within his own coalition government. Not that this means the embattled Italian leader is waving goodbye to power for long.
The move was a strategic step designed to keep the rebels happy, avoid an early general election and ensure the prime minister actually holds onto his job in the long-term. Berlusconi told parliament that his intention was to immediately form a new government. He also gave assurances that it would have the backing of all four of his current coalition partners. Two of them had demanded sweeping changes after the ruling centre-right suffered heavy losses at recent regional polls. One party quit the cabinet last week and on Tuesday another threatened to do the same unless Berlusconi gave way. Both have been calling for a significantly reduced role in government for another coalition member, the populist Northern League party, which wants more autonomy for the rich north of the country. The premier’s speech indicated he is willing to address the rebels’ demands. Announcing a new programme for his fresh administration, he spoke of extensive help for the south of Italy, heartland of the rebel parties and home to most of the country’s poorer citizens.