Berlusconi, belly dancers, bribes and la dolce vita – the fabulous world of Italian politics

The belly dancer who almost brought down a PM.

A couple of Italian sheilas – Catia Polidori and Maria Grazia Siliquini – are getting something of a hard time for being among three MPs who were expected to vote against Silvio Berlusconi, the rich rascal who runs the country iwhen he is not engaged in bouts of rumpy-pumpy.

According to The Telegraph, they “saved Berlusconi from humiliation over a crucial no confidence vote”.

Now their last-minute decision to side with the government has sparked accusations of bribery.

Catia Polidori, 43, and Maria Grazia Siliquini, 62, were called “traitors” by colleagues when they decided at the eleventh hour to vote for Mr Berlusconi, helping him win the motion by a paper-thin margin of 314 to 311.

They were among three MPs who had been expected to vote against the prime minister because they were considered loyal followers of Mr Berlusconi’s most formidable challenger, Gianfranco Fini.

Alf loves this story.

Getting into trouble with your expenses – as Pansy Wong has done – isn’t in the same league as breaking ranks with your party and prompting allegations of back-room deals and inducements, including financial rewards and government jobs.

Amid chaotic scenes in parliament on Tuesday, one colleague of Miss Polidori called her a “troia” – the Italian word for bitch or whore.

Fair to say Trevor Mallard could have said that.

But at Facebook, a page called “Shame on you Catia Polidori” was reported to have attracted 20,000 supporters by last night, with a photograph of Miss Polidori plastered with the word “Sold”.

Luca Barbareschi, a member of Mr Fini’s Future and Liberty of Italy group, said: “Her vote is simply shameful. This is corruption of a public official”.

Pier Luigi Bersani, the leader of the Democratic Party, the largest opposition force, repeated accusations that there had been “scandalous vote-buying” by the government to ensure it defeated the vote, which could have brought down Mr Berlusconi halfway through his third stint as prime minister.

Miss Polidori and other MPs who abruptly changed sides are denying any impropriety (but it would be remarkable if they admitted it).

They insist they have been motivated only by Italy’s best interests.

Mind you, Miss Polidari does admit that economic considerations came into the picture, and – it transpires – she happens to be an economist.

So she knows the difference between a lira and a liar, Alf imagines.

“We need a stable government and since I’m an economist, I know that Europe would not forgive us if we don’t manage to tackle our economic problems,” she said.

Miss Siliquini, who has been a supporter of Mr Fini since his split with the prime minister in July, admitted she too had received “insults” from colleagues, who accused her of breaking ranks in the hope of obtaining a position in a revamped government.

She denies receiving any such promise.

Well, of course she does.

But Alf is bound to observe that Italy’s Prime Minister gets up to much more fascinating antics than ours seems to do, and these antics are starting to stretch the tolerance of the normally fun-loving Italians .

A recent scandal linked him to a 17-year-old Moroccan belly dancer who said he had given her €7,000 and jewellery when she sat next to him at a Valentine’s Day dinner held this year for 10 women at his mansion near Milan.

The girl, named in the Italian media as Karima Keyek but known more widely by her stage name Ruby Rubacuori, or Stealer of Hearts, denies sleeping with Berlusconi.

“It the first time in my life that a man has not tried to take me to bed. He behaved like a father, I swear,” she told La Repubblica from Genoa, where she is hiding out in an apartment allegedly lent to her by a former porn star.

But she has painted a vivid portrait of private parties held by the 74-year-old prime minister, known by the Italian media as lavish affairs that often transformed into “bunga-bunga” sessions involving after-dinner sex between male and female guests.

But the people of Rome are getting a tad scratchy.

Riots erupted on the streets as protesters expressed their anger at Berlusconi’s political survival this week.

Inside the parliament chamber, according to The Daily Mail

…ushers had to pull apart brawling MPs and members of the opposition claimed crucial votes had been ‘bought’ by his party’. An investigation has been already launched into the allegations.

Alf wonders how Lockwood Smith would have handled it.

With wonderful aplomb, no doubt.

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