Well, this is a little late, but we ought to put on record that the fun-lovin’ minicaudillo’s fingers were eventually pried from the Italian prime ministership. As predicted, he went out with a considerable degree of low comedy, as the Italian senate struggled to elect a speaker largely because the Berlusconi side insisted on making a fuss about whether ballots cast for the eventual winner read “Franco” or “Francesco” Marini. Eventually, though, it was done.

The Senate speakership had been the last real opportunity to cling on, as the Left has a working majority in the lower house and therefore appointed its man without trouble. The deeper play of the Senate vote, by the way, was an effort to cause trouble in the Unione’s ranks – Romano Prodi chose to put forward a Refounded Communist, Faustino Bertinotti, as speaker of the lower house, thus getting the far Left on side, and therefore needed to balance the ticket by putting someone from the ex-Christian Democrat wing of his coalition in the Senate. This being achieved, Berlusconi had no longer any excuse to hang on.

The next problem will be to elect a President. In Italy, the presidency is a nonexecutive position more like that of Germany than that of France, but the president does choose who is asked to form a government, so without a prez there can be no prime minister. Now, the simplest option would just have been to re-elect Ciampi, but he says he’s too old. This is where it gets complicated, because a super-majority is needed to elect a president.

Recalling that the Refounded Communists got the speakership of the lower house, and the ex-democristiani the speakership of the upper house (and in all probability the prime ministership). Which major faction on the left is empty-handed? That’s right, the non-refounded communists, who in fact really did refound themselves to become the Democratic Left, unlike their former comrades in the Refoundation who didn’t refound themselves and remained communist. Their leader, former PM Massimo D’Alema, was therefore put forward as a candidate for the presidency even though the chance of Berlusconi’s side supporting him was exactly nil.

In fact, the Right is threatening a campaign of mass demonstrations in the event of his election, and suggesting that Marini be the President. This, your keen and agile minds will soon perceive, is a transparent device to reopen the speakership issue and thus destabilise the Left. Alternatively, the Right proposes, the secretary of the Presidency, Gianni Letta, might be a candidate.

Letta is probably acceptable to the Left, as having a conservative president is of little day-to-day importance given a majority in both houses, the prime ministership, and the speakerships. Prodi’s winning strategy is clear – fold, and back Letta, thus spiking the Berlusconi guns.

But it’s not that simple, of course. The Democratic Left will of course be royally pissed off at such a course, and would presumably have to be compensated in the next round of the game with cabinet posts and influence on policy anyway. Prodi’s problem is how to support D’Alema enough on Monday to satisfy honour and keep the DL on side, without letting the Right boost him sufficiently that the DLs think he could be elected.

The whole thing is eerily like Hunter S. Thompson’s account of the 1972 US Democratic convention, at which the McGovern camp had a majority but had to deliberately avoid using it too soon when the Humphrey faction could artificially boost their numbers and later withdraw.

In the meantime, Silvio Berlusconi is struggling to get used to life after power. Apparently they’re all out to get him.