The death of veteran politician and former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is likely to pose challenges to the cohesion of the country’s ruling coalition.
In the wake of the death of the head of the Forza Italia party at the age of 86, more discord looms in the government of Prime Minister Giorga Meloni.
Berlusconi was seen as a mediator and conciliator in the right-wing coalition.
“Of course it will be more difficult, because he had everyone’s approval, he put everyone on the same line,” said Matteo Salvini, deputy prime minister and leader of the populist right-wing League party.
It’s noteworthy that Salvini’s League is a much smaller partner in the coalition than Meloni’s Fratelli d’Italia party, but it is slightly larger than Forza Italia, which Berlusconi founded and led until recently.
When the Italian TV station, Canal 5, asked Meloni whether it was possible for the government to witness disagreements, without Berlusconi being the link between the two parties, she replied, “We owe him.”
She added that it’ll not be easy, after his departure.
Berlusconi, who held the office of Italian prime minister 4 times, and considered a controversial figure, faced and overcame various scandals, has died at the age of 86, at the San Raffaele hospital in Milan, where he was receiving treatment for a lung infection linked to leukaemia, since April.
Berlusconi’s death leaves a huge void, according to Italy’s defense minister said, with a national day of mourning due to take place on Wednesday.
Italian Defense Minister Guido Crosetto wrote on Twitter, “An era is over… Farewell Silvio… His death left a huge void”.
Berlusconi was the longest-serving prime minister in post-war Italy, bouncing back sexual scandals and corruption cases.
After taking political office in 1994, the billionaire media tycoon not consecutively led four governments until 2011.
On September 2022, Berlusconi’s center-right Forza Italia party went into coalition under right-wing Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni.
The Italian government has declared a national day of mourning for Wednesday, the same day Berlusconi’s funeral is scheduled to take place at Milan Cathedral.
The Russian president Vladimir Putin who was in close friendship with Berlusconi, paid a tribute calling him was “Berlusconi was a true friend”.
In a statement, the Russian President said, “he had always admired Berlusconi’s wisdom and ability to make balanced, far-sighted decisions”.
French President Emmanuel Macron sent his condolences to Berlusconi’s family and the Italian people on behalf of the French people.
He described Berlusconi as “a major figure in contemporary Italy”, saying he was “at the forefront of the political scene for many years, from his first election as a member of parliament in 1994 to the senatorial mandate he held until his final days”.
In the US, White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre said Italy was a major US ally and Berlusconi had “worked closely with several US administrations on advancing our bilateral relationship”.
Berlusconi had been suffering from a rare form of blood cancer, chronic myelomonocyte leukaemia, doctors at San Raffaele revealed in April.
He faced repeated health problems after contracting Covid in 2020.
He was born in Milan in 1936, and began his career selling vacuum cleaners before setting up a construction company.
He went on to become one of Italy’s richest men, building a business empire that included television networks, publishing companies and advertising agencies.
He gained international recognition as owner of legendary football club AC Milan, which he saved from bankruptcy in 1986 before going into politics in the 1990s.
Berlusconi was a polarizing politician, and was praised by supporters for his business acumen and populist verve, but reviled by critics for his disregard for the rule of law.
Throughout his political career, he faced a string of legal troubles, including charges of bribery, tax fraud, and sex with an underage prostitute.
He convicted on several occasions, but avoided jail because of his age and the expiry of statutes of limitations.