Someone says this is the announcement of a political divorce, someone else says that Gianfranco Fini, the head of the Chamber of Deputies, has just committed a political suicide. But I think neither of the two hypotheses is correct. In my opinion—and that of many others—a “true” party was born yesterday, instead: the People of Freedom (PdL), which until yesterday was little more than a political movement, despite three resounding victories in 2008 (general election), 2009 (European elections) and 2010 (regional elections).
Fini, who headed the conservative National Alliance before it merged with Berlusconi’s Forza Italia to create the current PDL, threatened last week to set up his own faction because in his opinion the Northern League, which also supports the government, has been granted too many concessions. “It’s clear that the Northern League, right now, is the dominant force” in the government majority, he said in a statement. But the showdown took place just yesterday, when, in a rare open debate among the top rungs of the party, Gianfranco Fini levelled a raft of criticisms at the style and substance of the prime minister’s leadership, accusing him of stifling internal party debate and claiming that there were some in the party that “do not full agree” with Berlusconi’s stance on many issues, such as the government’s tough line on immigration and the plans to devolve powers to the regions, which in his opinion have not been properly thought out or discussed.
What followed was quite an amusing spectacle…
Mr Berlusconi stepped up to the podium right after Mr Fini's speech, criticising his ally for making political statements while holding a post that requires him to be impartial and for not participating in the campaign for regional elections last month to thundering applause.
"A speaker of the house should not make political statements. If you want to make them, you should leave your post," Mr Berlusconi told Mr Fini in front of 477 party representatives.
The prime minister also accused Mr Fini's allies of "exposing the party to public mockery" by criticising his party on television.
"It doesn't seem to me the issues you have raised are of great importance compared to what we have done as a government," Mr Berlusconi said.
In a visually striking riposte, Mr Fini stood up and stepped toward the stage where Mr Berlusconi was speaking, pointing his finger and shouting: "What are you saying? What are you saying? ... Are you going to kick me out?"
Mr Fini later said he would not step down as Chamber speaking and his supporters would not leave Mr Berlusconi's party.
But above all I think the whole thing was a celebration of democracy, just what the People of Freedom party needed, given the almost obvious lack of democratic debate in a party led by a charismatic personality. In fact, for one thing, as everybody knows, in such parties, when the personality leaves office, the movement lapses, and that’s precisely what Italian conservatives don’t want to happen. Needless to say, at any rate, Berlusconi and his most fervent supporters need to realize that internal dissent is not itself a crisis but, rather, priceless insurance against disaster.
That’s why, being neither a supporter of Fini nor a Berlusconist, but simply a conservative, I consider what happened yesterday to be a positive step forward, even though I disagree with Fini on most issues and agree with Berlusconi on the majority of his views.