MILAN, Italy — Silvio Berlusconi's failed attempt to topple the Italian government has left him weaker than ever, zapped of the aura of invincibility that had surrounded him for two decades as he faces the possible loss of his Senate seat and a ban from politics.
Still, it was unlikely to be his last act.
The 77-year-old three-time former prime minister staged one of Italy's most stunning political plot twists in memory Wednesday when he took the Senate floor at the last minute to announce that he would, after all, support Prime Minister Enrico Letta's government in a confidence vote.
It was a face-saving measure that came after key loyalists in Berlusconi's center-right party refused to follow his bid to collapse the coalition government as fallout over his tax-fraud conviction. The conviction carries a four-year prison sentence that endangers his role as a legislator.
''We have decided, not without internal strife, to vote in confidence" Berlusconi said.
Though he tried to look magnanimous, it was the billionaire media mogul's first defeat within the party he founded and which has achieved electoral success largely through his personal appeal.
Berlusconi's retreat bestows a measure of stability upon Letta's 5-month-old left-right coalition, which won confidence votes in both houses and faces the daunting task of trying to revive Italy's economy. And while Berlusconi was left bruised and battered, political analysts argue he is not yet out of the picture.
A Senate committee is to vote in coming days on whether to recommend stripping Berlusconi of his seat.