Silvio Berlusconi, so long! But we might not see you again soon

Story highlights

  • Silvio Berlusconi, Italy's ultimate comeback king, might finally be out of politics for good
  • Nina dos Santos says the political message is now more than just goodbye -- this time it's good riddance
  • For all his pantomime charades however, he did earn some respect for staying the course
  • But Italians appear to have finally realized he is no longer good for the country

Latin goodbyes sometimes lack the finality of Anglo-Saxon ones.

In Italian, for instance, the expression "arrivederci" doesn't mean a definite adieu but rather "until we meet again."

Yet even in Italy there are occasions when people want their farewells to be lasting, as the country's ultimate comeback king may finally have to concede.

After being convicted for tax fraud and facing more legal woes for cavorting with an underage call girl, Silvio Berlusconi will likely be banned from public office soon.

A desperate attempt by the three-time prime minister to thwart a vote on his exclusion backfired in spectacular fashion, when even his anointed heir refused to follow orders and torpedo the government.

The message to Berlusconi this time was not just "goodbye," but "good riddance."

Still, as lifelong opponents prepare to raise a glass to a fresh era, one can't help but wonder what this new Italy will look like without its familiar Silvio sideshow.

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If the 77-year-old's antics were a welcome distraction from the country's slide down the world league tables, then what vision -- if any -- will this disparate bunch of successors have?

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Since rising to prominence during the power vacuum that followed Italy's corruption scandals in the 1990s, Berlusconi has dominated the political and business arena for more than two decades.

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His detractors will say he has done countless damage to their nation's reputation and taken a wrecking ball to its economy -- leaving generations to come with a hefty price to pay.

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Furthermore, Berlusconi has undermined the rule of law by pursuing a personal vendetta against the judiciary and used parliament to pass bills that protected his interests.

But for all his pantomime charades at home and abroad, one has to acknowledge the ex-premier has earned some quiet respect for at least staying the course.

He may have been a polarizing figure but that cheeky charisma and flagrant disregard for the rules left no one unaware of who he was.

Sly old Silvio, for all his schoolboy jokes, held together some of the longest-serving governments in the history of the Italian Republic and though his agenda today may not tally with that of a serious country, his party's latest incarnation won a third of the vote at the last elections.

In Italy, one quickly learns that few actually admit to supporting Berlusconi yet each time the country votes his followers flock to the ballot box in droves.

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The truth is in years gone by Berlusconi's confidence and swagger were contagious.

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His secret: In the absence of any committed opposition to appeal to voters' guilty pleasures, even if that meant offending everyone from ethnic minorities to Angela Merkel along the way.

Millions of Italians were lulled into a false sense of security by the kind of populist rhetoric only the really, really rich like Berlusconi can spout with a straight face.

But in an age when Italy needs to re-establish its credibility and pay off its debts his views are outdated, vacuous and inappropriate.

The tycoon's recent attempt to jeopardize his country's future wellbeing merely to save his fading political career was nakedly selfish and fatally misjudged. It bore the hallmarks of an increasingly desperate septuagenarian who faces the prospect of retirement with fear and dread.

Not even the prospect of a fiancee almost 50 years his junior will be enough to keep him at home, much to Italy's chagrin.

Even if he is ejected from the state's decision-making bodies, it's unlikely what's left of Berlusconi's clout will disappear overnight. His vast media empire will lobby from behind the scenes in print and on TV, employing guerrilla tactics to undermine the tough austerity Italy's new leaders must pursue if they have a hope of fixing its perilous finances.

And so, as Berlusconi contemplates his future and a year's sentence under possible house arrest, the Italians may have finally realized this entertaining former leader is no longer good for their country.

What they certainly know though is life will be more mundane without him.