Saint Petersburg, FL
By RACHEL DONADIO
Published: November 17, 2010
ROME — Over the years, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has marveled Italians with his Houdini-like powers to escape the trickiest political traps and bounce back when all odds were against him.
But this time around, as a political crisis deepens and looks poised to bring down the government within weeks, something is notably different in Italy.
How can one tell?
Because his former loyalists, who did not abandon him when he lost power in 2006 but who sense political weakness the way a dog smells fear, have visibly begun repositioning themselves for the next chapter — when Mr. Berlusconi is unlikely to be the leading man.
“It’s an old Italian tradition that the tenor is idolized until people start booing him,” said Beppe Severgnini, a longtime Berlusconi critic whose latest book tries to explain the Italian leader to foreigners.
This month, the booing has begun. It started at the top, with Gianfranco Fini, the co-founder of the center-right People of Liberty party, who withdrew four cabinet members on Monday. That move formalized a crisis that began when Mr. Berlusconi kicked him out of the coalition in July, costing him his parliamentary majority.
But every day, the defections — or perceived defections — multiply.
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