Reached while visiting Romania, where he was warmly received, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi reacted to his party's defeat in the Italian local elections with the quip "I am too busy to schedule my funeral."
Berlusconi's coalition ally, the Northern League, that was also defeated in its northern base, showed no sign of bolting the coalition and its leader Umberto Bossi termed the vote "a slap in the face" but not the end of the world.
The opposition Democratic party, led by Pier Luigi Bersani, believes otherwise. It was a stinging rebuke to the center-right government and a policy "that lives in its own film far from the problems of the Italians," he said.
With the recent Standard & Poor's negative rating for Italy in mind, Bersani accused Silvio Berlusconi of holding Italy prisoner "there are months and months… That we have been going on automatic pilot there is no decision in a country that is in the midst of a crisis… I don't say this in a spirit of partisanship I say this as a person concerned with the country."
The center-right was beaten in Berlusconi's Milan stronghold as the center-left took Italy's financial and fashion capital for the first time in two decades. Berlusconi campaigned vigorously in Milian on behalf of his party's mayoralty candidate, warning voters that under the center-left, Milan could turn into a bastion of Islam. It emerges that he proved an electoral liability.
Another major Berlusconi effort was in Naples, long a bastion of the opposition, that has been experiencing high unemployment and a garbage strike. Berlusconi sent in soldiers to deal with the refuse and promised jobs. Not only did Berlusconi's candidate lose in a landslide, but the victor was a former magistrate. He is a member of the Italy of Values Party that was formed by the prosecutor who brought down the Italian establishments in the 1990s in the Mani Pulite - Clean Hands campaign, Antonio di Pietro.
The symbolism was obvious. Berlusconi was caught remarking to Obama that Italy had become a dictatorship of left-wing prosecutors and this explained why he had to face numerous indictments. Both Berlusconi and the opposition claimed that he is spending too much time defending himself in court.
The election defeat sparked speculation that perhaps the "knight", the nickname for Berlusconi, has outlived his welcome and should graciously prepare his party's succession. Giulio Tremonti, the respected Finance Minister, is mentioned in this context.
The Northern league is not ready to pull the plug, as it did during the 1990s, on the Berlusconi government believing that electorally it has more to lose than to gain. Even in defeat, the Northern League was poaching voters away from Berlusconi People of Liberty party. However, amongst the rank and file, there are mutterings that Silvio Berlusconi has become a liability and has not redeemed his many promises. He had promised to lower prices but people now have to work longer to stay in place.