April 2008 was a happier time for Silvio Berlusconi.
His People of Freedom Party and its allies had swept Romano Prodi’s left-wing government from power to win a third term as prime minister.
Yet Monday’s crushing referendum defeats could bring his five-year tenure to a premature end.
Berlusconi entered politics 17 years ago after amassing most of his fortune through Mediaset, the country’s biggest private television broadcaster.
Forbes Magazine estimates he is worth 6.2 billion euros and is Italy’s third-richest man.
He had promised to cut taxes and red-tape, but allegations of corruption and a series of lurid sex scandals came to divert Berlusconi’s attention from reviving Italy’s sagging economy.
The 74-year-old playboy premier shocked Italy when reports emerged of his ‘friendship’ with aspiring model Noemi Letiza.
He insisted their relationship was purely platonic but his second wife, Veronica, soon asked for a divorce, accusing Berlusconi of having, quote, a sickness for consorting with minors.”
December 2009 and the split was still rumbling on when Berlusconi was literally handed another blow.
An assailant hurled a statuette at the prime minister during a pre-Christmas rally in Milan, fracturing his nose and breaking two of his teeth.
Undettered by his costly divorce, Berlusconi soon befriended a teenaged Moroccan dancer known as Ruby.
She caught the Italian premier’s eye at one of his now infamous ‘bunga bunga’ parties.
Berlusconi is accused of paying for sex with Ruby when she was underage
Both deny there was any kind of sexual relationship but prosecutors decided there was enough evidence for the prime minister to stand trial.
Berlusconi’s woes raise huge questions for his coalition partner Umberto Bossi.
The leader of the nationalist Northern League will address its annual party conference on June 19th and many of its members want Bossi to sever all links with a man they see as an electoral liability.
Berlusconi will again face another confidence vote on the 22nd of this month with the Northern League expected to call for concessions to remain in government.
Italian commentators believe that Berlusconi’s two-decade political presence is coming to an end and that he is unlikely to last until the next elections, due in 2013.
Whatever happens, the embattled premier is unlikely to have much to smile about over the coming weeks and months.