The history of the ancient Roman tells thousand tales about lonely and confused emperors. Many of them - from Cesar to Nero - realized only far too late, that the game was over. Also Sun King Silvio feels increasingly desolate, but we can doubt, that he fully understands, that these could be his very last days as Italy's leader.
It's not anymore just the opposition, that asks him to step down as soon as possible. No, also more and more fellow party leaders, for example the co-founder of Berlusconi's "People of the Freedom" and former Minister of the Interior, Giuseppe Pisanu, press Berlusconi to set up an "orderly transition". And even if Standard&Poor's downgrade of Italy's sovereign debt from A+ to A yesterday didn't come surprisingly - it triggered a surprisingly harsh reaction from the public opinion.
The Milan based daily Corriere della Sera, considered the most relevant voice of Italy's conservative-liberal citizens, placed today a significant editorial on it's first page, where a long-time defender of Berlusconi, Sergio Romano, a former ambassador in Russia, asks the Prime-Minister openly to announce anticipated elections for the next spring. The biting cartoon next to the editorial shows Berlusconi sitting as a beggar on the street: "Less Standards but always Poorer," is the title.
What is the perspective now? Nobody knows, but there are certain scenarios in place, which have different probabilities to come true. I try to list them in the order of likelihood:
1. Similar to Zapatero in Spain, Berlusconi could announce, that he will not run anymore for office and that elections are anticipated to the first quarter of the next year. This is exactly the solution proposed today by Corriere and it seems that the moderate wing of the major political forces could support such a move. Berlusconi feels the heat. And he will consider very well this exit strategy, because it represents an acceptable transition. It would give him enough time to place a potential successor, most likely the party secretary Angelino Alfano, a former Minister of Justice and loyal author of some "tailor-made" laws for his master. And it would at least conserve the appearance, that Berlusconi is still in the driver seat. Not very elegant, but it could work. Probability 50%.
2. Berlusconi could try to stay in power until the end of the legislation in 2013, not running anymore for office. The man is 75 but still very combative. Be sure, that this is his preferred solution, because it would conserve - at least in his eyes - in the best way his image. The man is a Marketing Man, as I tried in the past to explain to the Handelsblatt-readers; he is not a statesman. Don't underestimate him, he has shown in the last decade an extraordinary ability to survive. Probability 30%.
3. Berlusconi could have to step down due to a coalition crises triggered by Bossi's Lega Nord. The President of the Republic Giorgio Napolitano could in that case help to install a "technical" government. Italy has made good experiences with such institutional solution in the 90ies, when some of the most important reforms have been put in place by the independent Prime Ministers Amato, Ciampi and Dini. Such an administration would today be most likely lead by the former EU-Commissioner Mario Monti, who has an excellent standing. The task is clear: inject trust from the markets and clean up the mess. For Italy this would be for sure the best solution, but nobody in the political arena - not even the smaller parties - like it. The reason, why it could come true against all odds, is that the majority of the Italians would support such a solution being a symbol for a real new start. Also President Napolitano seems to like it. Probability 20%.