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Rome - Abandoned by top aides and choked by the courts, Silvio Berlusconi's bid to topple the government appeared set to fail on Wednesday in what analysts said could be the “final act” of his career.
The bombastic tycoon who once compared his popularity to that of Jesus Christ cut an increasingly lonely figure after two decades on the political scene as one by one his lieutenants broke ranks to support the government.
“He seems a bit like a shadow of his former self,” said Stefano Folli, a columnist for the Il Sole 24 Ore business daily, describing a “human drama inside the political drama” for the embattled three-time former prime minister.
“This is the end for a man who was recognised even by his enemies as having a formidable personality allied with an uncanny political sense,” Folli said.
Gianni Riotta, a commentator for La Stampa daily, said: “Rome is witnessing the final act of the political story of Silvio Berlusconi, who for the first time is seeing some of his own say no to him.”
Political observers even compared Wednesday to July 25, 1943, when Benito Mussolini was deposed in a vote by the Grand Council of Fascism.
“Like Mussolini then, Berlusconi is showing signs of fatigue,” said Filippo Ceccarelli, a political expert for the leftist daily La Repubblica.
“An entire world is falling down,” he said.
If defeated, Berlusconi could continue in opposition to Letta, albeit without the weighty support he used to enjoy in Parliament.
But the real threat to his political career comes from his many and increasingly serious legal woes, which are tightening the noose.
As things stand, Berlusconi later this month is set to be expelled from his seat in the Senate and barred from running in the next elections following his first-ever definitive criminal conviction for tax fraud in August.
A court in Milan is also due to decide this month whether the 12-month sentence Berlusconi received in that conviction should be served as house arrest or community service - an ignominious fate for the billionaire magnate.
Berlusconi is also appealing a seven-year prison sentence for having sex with an underage prostitute and for abuse of office when he was prime minister and a one-year sentence for leaking a police wiretap to damage a rival.
The fall from dominance was shown up in the derision prompted by images of Berlusconi seen earlier in the week holding his white poodle Dudu in the courtyard of his Roman palazzo in-between marathon political talks.
“He held that dog in his arms because it was the only creature that lonely man, that leader on the brink, could trust,” La Repubblica said.
Berlusconi has bounced back before - although never from such a position of weakness - and some analysts were not so quick to write him off.
The charismatic leader has proved a formidable campaigner and surprised many naysayers by returning after being forced out of office in November 2011 in a blaze of parliamentary rebellion, financial market panic and sex scandals.
“Berlusconi has seven lives and it is not out of the question that he could invent an eighth one,” Antonio Polito wrote in the Corriere della Sera daily, although he conceded the challenge to Berlusconi was “without precedents”.
Polito said it was time for the centre-right to find a new leader.
“There are those who think it is not possible for men and women born and bred under Berlusconi's star can have the strength for such a change.
“It is very difficult, but democratic politics is about patricide,” he said. - AFP