Silvio Berlusconi, Italy's "bad-boy prime minister," has faced his share of controversies, but his latest scandal poses the greatest threat to his political career to date. Berlusconi has been accused of soliciting sex from a Moroccan dancer (stage name: Ruby Heartstealer), who was just 17 at the time. An investigation uncovered stories of illicit parties at Berlusconi's villa, at which B-list entertainers performed sexual favors for politicians. Yet despite tremendous political pressure on Berlusconi, who calls the charges "laughable," his party's poll numbers rose in recent weeks, while his rivals sank. How is Berlusconi pulling this off? Here are four theories:
1. Italians can sympathize
One reason the prime minister is "defying political gravity" right now, says Alexander Lee in The Guardian, is that "the sex scandal fits very nicely with Berlusconi's carefully crafted public image." Berlusconi presents himself as "a bon viveur who makes no secret of his love of wealth, wine, and women," but also "as an ordinary Joe" with relatable, "all-too-human failings." Despite the scandal, Berlusconi lives "a life to which many Italians aspire."
2. His opposition is weak and disorganized
Berlusconi may look bad, but the parties that should be kicking him to the curb look even worse. Berlusconi is fortunate that "neither his two main rivals on the right, nor the opposition Democratic Party, seem to have the gumption to oust him," says Nick Squires in The Telegraph. The Democrats, in particular, are in disarray; they are "wracked by internal bickering and polls show they have less support than government."
3. If he resigns, there could be chaos
"The more pressure builds on Berlusconi to resign," says The Guardian's Lee, "the more Italians are forced to contemplate the alternatives" — and they "aren't pretty." They range from an "unstable" center-right coalition under the former fascist Gianfranco Fini to a center-left coalition headed by Pier Luigi Bersani, the "ineffective leader" of the Democratic party. Another option, having a temporary "technocrat" appointed by Italy's president, is "deeply unpopular." Given such scenarios, Italians may see this as a case of "better the devil you know."
4. The man is just entertaining
Berlusconi possesses plenty of "charisma," says Joe Romaine at International Business Times, not to mention that, as a politician, he is "a veritable one-man, three-ring circus." His antics over the years, which have included gay jokes and noting that President Obama has a "tan," have at least made for good theater, which Italians appreciate far more than other nationalities. In a country like the United States, Berlusconi would be "dismissed as a clown, or much worse." But in Italy, he is just a "survivor."