Italian press writes Berlusconi's political obituary

Silvio Berlusconi (file image) Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Silvio Berlusconi resigned as the prime minister of a centre-right coalition last year

Italian papers see the guilty verdict handed down to the former prime minister in Milan on Friday as having finally brought the Berlusconi era in Italian politics to an end.

Some commentators reflect on the way in which Berlusconi - popularly known as "Il Cavaliere" or "The Knight" - dominated the political scene for the last two decades, while others speculate on the impact that the mode of his departure is likely to have on his party in the run-up to the 2013 elections.

Gianni Rotta, writing in La Stampa, notes that at next year's elections, "an entire generation of Italians born after 1975 will for the first time in their lives be confronted with a ballot paper… that does not constitute a referendum for or against Berlusconi".

Rotta lays a large part of the blame for the current state of Italy on Mr Berlusconi's shoulders, saying that he had to bear the responsibility for "having failed to reform the country and the market as he promised, at a time when it would have been less painful".

"Red togas"

Michele Dotti, writing in Il Fatto Quotidiano, focuses more on Mr Berlusconi's repeated claims that he is the victim of a political conspiracy conducted by what he considers to be a left-leaning judiciary, which he often refers to scathingly as "le toghe rosse" or "the red togas".

Dotti dismisses the former prime minister's reaction to the Milan verdict - which Mr Berlusconi described as "intolerable judicial harassment" - saying that his "ostentatious lack of respect for the law and the presumption of impunity" were "simply the result of the excessive power and wealth of the Cavaliere".

Stefano Folli, writing in the financial paper Il Sole 24 Ore, also notes that "Berlusconi is using his usual arguments against the judiciary". However, the commentator says that this time, his party, the Il Popolo della Liberta (PdL) or The People of Freedom, will be less likely to spring to his defence, as it is now beginning to see Mr Berlusconi's war against the judiciary as a lost cause.

Folli says that in the run-up to the election, the party will have to decide whether it makes more sense to back its leader or take heed of the mood in the country as a whole. "The party leadership faces a stark choice: either it will have to rally behind the leader in a final battle against the judges, or it will have to go with public opinion, which cannot take any more of these psychoses and wants to turn the page so as to tackle today's problems."

According to Massimo Franco, writing in Corriere della Sera, the PdL is now "in the trenches" and stands to do particularly badly in Sunday's regional election in Sicily as a result of the Milan verdict.

"The immediate repercussion may well be felt at tomorrow's election in Sicily, in which the PdL risks doing even more badly than it had already feared," Franco says. "The blow of the sentence handed down to Silvio Berlusconi in Milan yesterday for tax fraud hits a party which is struggling desperately to file away its leader."

He adds that the verdict "complicates things for a party that is trying to find an easy transition, a new identity and new alliances" and that it needs to explain to the electorate "how much the legacy of Berlusconi still casts a shadow on the present".

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