Is This the End of Berlusconi?

Finally, something to celebrate in Europe: It looks like the end for Silvio Berlusconi.

Finally, something to celebrate in Europe: It looks like the end for Silvio Berlusconi.

As we've all learned, with Il Cavaliere the show is never really over. But the extraordinary, hard-to-explain grip that the leader of the People of Liberty party has held on Italian politics for the last two decades surely is.

This week, Berlusconi demanded that his fellow party members pull out of Italy's coalition government and collapse it, in a transparent attempt to forestall an Oct. 4 hearing on whether to expel him from the Senate as a convicted felon. He miscalculated.

Prime Minister Enrico Letta called a vote of confidence in the government and warned senators not to put Berlusconi's dubious personal interests above those of the economy and country. The result was that Berlusconi's party split and, suddenly, Il Cavaliere lacked the numbers to defeat Letta. Berlusconi reversed himself, agreeing to vote with the government, but it was a humiliating defeat. A photoof the former prime minister with his face in his hands as he sat in parliament tells it all.

Who knows what happens now. This was a rare mistake for a master political operator, who should never be counted out. The right wing of Italian politics may disintegrate and re-form, and Letta's government will remain in a fragile state. This much is clear, though: Berlusconi, who first became prime minister in 1994, failed to conduct the economic reforms that he once promised and that might have insulated Italy from the debt crisis; he used his office for his own business and personal interests, rather than those of 61 million Italians; he served his country poorly and made its leadership a joke understood worldwide.

Italy's senators have one more task to attend to before returning their focus where it belongs: on the economy. They should vote to strip Berlusconi of his Senate seat as a result of his conviction for tax fraud, remove the immunity that has protected Il Cavaliere from other charges and turn the page on a political era that's best forgotten.

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