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Italian Politics: Berlusconi's nemesis

Will Silvio Berlusconi's former ally be the one to end his reign?

In 2003, he called for granting immigrants the right to vote at local elections — something that put him at odds with another key Berlusconi ally, the separatist Northern League. Breaching one of the unwritten laws of mainstream Italian politics, he has also often came out against the Catholic Church on issues ranging from in vitro fertilization to assisted suicide.

In recent months, tensions between the two men have been rising and rising: Fini not only spoke against some of Berlusconi's more controversial ideas — denouncing rampant political corruption in the People of Freedom party and criticizing his allies who have been caught up in judicial investigations — but also accused the Prime Minister of running their party like a monarch and stifling internal debate.

To many, this was just political positioning with an eye to the succession of 73-year-old Berlusconi. But for other commentators, such as Alessandro Campi, a political scientist who is a key adviser to Fini, he is fighting a battle for the “soul” of Italy's center-right majority. The post-fascist leader, Campi believes, is aiming to create a liberal conservative party free from the baggage of Berlusconi's judicial woes.

What will happen next?

According to the Italian press, Berlusconi has threatened a snap election “at the first incident” with Fini's loyalists. Electoral campaigns are what he is best at, but under the Italian Constitution only the President of the Republic can dissolve Parliament.

What is sure is that Berlusconi's break-up with Fini means that he has failed in at least one respect: he hasn't managed to reform Italy's fractional politics, creating a basically two-party system like the American or British one, thus leaving the endless horse-trading a necessary in order to keep coalition governments stable.

In fact, Berlusconi — the former businessman who despises "politicking" — will have to resort to all the arts of old-style politics in order to stay in power.

Editor's note: This story was updated to give the result of a no-confidence motion voted on by the Italian parliament on Aug. 4.