Berlusconi, Silvio (bĕrˌləskōˈnē) [key], 1936–, Italian business executive and politician, premier (1994; 2001–6, 2008–11) of Italy, b. Milan. His first fortune was made in real estate during the 1960s. In the early 1980s Berlusconi founded commercial television networks that wooed the public away from the more stolid fare offered on government-run channels, and he became a billionaire as head of a media empire embracing television, advertising, film, and publishing.
Entering politics as a strong advocate of a market-driven economy, he established the conservative Forza Italia party in 1994 and vaulted to prominence, largely through his excoriation of the corruption-tainted established parties and his ready access to publicity. In 1994 parliamentary elections, his right-wing coalition captured a majority, and Berlusconi became premier. By the end of the year, however, his coalition collapsed and he resigned.
Subsequently accused of the very corruption he had vowed to expunge, Berlusconi, who alleged a left-wing plot against him, was convicted in 1997 and 1998 of financial crimes. The convictions were later overturned on appeal, but he also faced other bribery and other charges beginning in 1999. In 2001 he was again led a right-wing coalition to an electoral and became premier. In 2003, in an attempt to end his bribery trial, parliament passed a law making the premier (and other top Italian officials) immune from prosecution, but the constitutional court subsequently overturned the law. The following year he was acquitted of the bribery charges; the other charges were dismissed
After losses in local elections in 2005, he resigned and formed a new coalition government. His coalition narrowly lost in the 2006 parliamentary elections. Later in the year Berlusconi was tried on tax and accounting charges relating to his media companies, but some of charges were later dropped. He returned to power in Apr., 2008, when his renamed People of Freedom party and its coalition partners won control of the parliament. His coalition subsequently passed legislation granting Italy's senior officeholders immunity from prosecution, but Italy's constitutional court overturned the law in 2009. In 2010 parliament passed a law allowing senior government figures to postpone trials against them for 18 months, but in 2011 the constitutional court ruled that a judge should decide whether a trial should be postponed. Subsequently, he faced prosecution or investigation in a number of cases, including one involving alleged underage prostitution. Also in 2010, scandals and political divisions threatened to bring down his government. He narrowly survived no-confidence votes in Dec., 2010, and, after being forced to adopt austerities in the face of a financial crisis, in Oct., 2011. A general loss of confidence in his government forced his resignation after an economic reform package was passed in Nov., 2011.
See studies by P. Ginsburg (2004) and A Stille (2006).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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