He wears a handkerchief on his head. He's the richest man in Italy, and has used his wealth and influence for political ends. He may soon face trial on bribery and corruption charges. He's a male chauvinist. These are all reasons why Italians may wish to vote the Prime Minister out of office in polls starting tomorrow.
But these all take second place to Silvio Berlusconi's central crime since his coalition came to power in May 2001: economic mismanagement. As the German economy has steadily improved its competitiveness and boosted exports in recent years, Italy has lost a lot of ground.
These points are well made in an article by Floyd Norris in today's New York Times, Italy's Prime Minister, Facing Voters, Finds the Economy Is No Help. Economic growth has been sluggish, inflation has picked up, competitveness has declined, and budget deficits have blown out as the government seeks to pump-prime the economy. As Norris writes:
..Italy, on a relative basis, is becoming poorer. In 2000, its G.D.P. per person was 2 percent higher than the average of all 25 countries now in the European Union. Last year it was 2 percent below that average. On that per person basis its economy was 24 percent larger than Spain's in 2000. Now the margin is 15 percent.
The slow growth has come as Italy has struggled to stay competitive, both within Europe and abroad. Italy used to periodically regain its competitive position through a sometime violent currency devaluation. But now that it is in the euro zone, that is impossible.
Since Mr. Berlusconi took office, Italian inflation has run above that of other European countries, and he has taken to blaming his opponent this year, Romano Prodi , for allowing the country to join the euro at a euro-lira exchange rate that was too high.
Italian exports have risen, but not as fast as imports, and the current-account surplus that Italy enjoyed before the last election has turned into a deficit.
Aside from job growth, it's not a pretty picture (click on the charts below to see the whole thing). No wonder the latest Economist argues that irrespective of whether the centre-left group of Romano Prodi or the centre-right Berlusconi coalition take office, "the winner must face up to the fact that Italy's economy is in dire need of reform".