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Silvio Berlusconi's political fight is going down to the wire

Flamboyant Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is desperately marshaling support ahead of two parliamentary votes that could see him ousted from office Tuesday.

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He could very well bounce back and be re-elected as leader of the new government, albeit with diminished support in parliament.

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In a last-minute appeal to wavering MPs, Berlusconi said today that it would be “folly” to precipitate a political crisis at a time when Italy is facing the sort of economic pressures that have created chaos in countries like Greece and Ireland.... I ask you ... to reflect on the political folly that opening a crisis without visible and credible solutions would be today."

The key to Berlusconi's longevity lies partly in the fact that the alternative is so unpalatable to many Italians. The main opposition Democratic Party, from the center-left, has been weakened by constant changes of leadership and a lack of unity.

Italians are also much more forgiving of Berlusconi’s apparent dalliances than voters in the US or Britain would be, taking the view that his relationships with models and starlets are either an inevitable perk of wealth and power or irrelevant to his ability to govern.

“The sex scandals won’t bring him down, because of the peculiarities of Italy – this sort of behavior is seen as either praiseworthy, or at least typical and understandable,” says Stephen Gundle, a specialist in Italian politics and culture at Warwick University in the UK.“The women have got younger as he has got older. It reflects the fact that he refuses to age, and also his desire to project an image of youthful vigour.”

Millions of Italians continue to admire him despite his penchant for partying with women young enough to be his granddaughters. “What do most Italians think?” asks one of the country’s best-known columnists and writers, Beppe Severgnini, in a new book. “He looks like us. He’s one of us. He adores his kids, talks about his mama, knows his football, makes money, hates rules, tells jokes, swears a bit, adores women, likes to party and is convivial to a fault."

Berlusconi’s control of the Italian media is also key to his resilience and has helped him win three terms in office in the last 16 years.

As prime minister, he indirectly exerts control over the public broadcaster, Rai, while the private channels he owns talk up his achievements while downplaying or ignoring outright his scandals.

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