By Ray Fleming

IT was in 2001 that the Economist news magazine declared that Silvio Berlusconi was unfit to be Prime Minister of Italy.
At the time Berlusconi, the owner of many newspapers and TV and radio stations, tried without success to find a way of silencing the allegations against him made by the Economist.

But it has taken ten years, until last weekend, for the Italian public to recognise Berlusconi's shortcomings by rejecting three of his policies in a national referendum. Two of these were concerned with nuclear power and water supplies but a third touched directly on legislation Berlusconi has himself introduced to give him immunity from prosecution on charges related to financial and other misdemeanours while Prime Minister.

The referendum on this issue, like the other two, got a 95 per cent negative response by those voting in a 57 per cent turnout. This striking rejection of his policies follows recent conventional losses in local elections.

The referendum judgement against ministerial immunity will bear directly on Mr Berlusconi's “Bunga Bunga” trial for paying for sex with a minor which is due to be restarted in Milan very soon. Coming as it does after a string of similar accusations against the Prime Minister it will be surprising if this trial does not prove to be end of Silvio Berlusconi's leadership -- the longest since that of the dictator Benito Mussolini.