The founder of Tod's luxury leathergoods complained in full-page newspaper ads Saturday about the "indecent" conduct of Italian politicians pursuing personal interests while neglecting the struggling economy.
Shoe magnate Diego Della Valle added his voice to those of less famous Italians saying it's time to change scandal-tainted politics in the country. On Friday, three truckloads of petitions signed by 1.2 million citizens were delivered to court officials in Rome.
Those signing demand a referendum be held to end the electoral system giving the top vote-getting party a bonus of seats in Parliament.
Della Valle's scathing manifesto said many politicians were putting on an "indecent and irresponsible show that can no longer be tolerated." Their preoccupation over "small or big personal and party interests," he contended, is leading Italy to "the brink of disaster and irreparably damaging Italy's reputation in the world."
He didn't name names, but Premier Silvio Berlusconi is fighting judicial cases ranging from corruption to alleged sex with a minor-aged prostitute.
Some Berlusconi loyalists mocked Della Valle. Some "need to take out ads because when they talk without paying no one listens to them," commented Defense Minister Ignazio La Russa, holding up one of the paid advertisements.
But one prominent coalition ally urged politicians to heed the impatience over the ruling class.
"I was struck by the number of signatures gathered in such a short time," Interior Minister Roberto Maroni told reporters. The petitions and the ads make for "a strong signal. I'm of the opinion that strong signals should be listened to."
Maroni's political mentor, Umberto Bossi, is the Northern Leader and volatile coalition ally whose support keeps Berlusconi's squabbling government afloat. Bossi has been grumbling that perhaps at this point early elections this spring are the best course.
Elections aren't due until spring 2013.
If courts rule the signatures valid, and a referendum is held and wins, the current electoral law would be scrapped. That would mean the top vote-garnering party would no longer enjoy the bonus of extra seats which gave Berlusconi a solid cushion of a majority during his tenure since 2008.
Among those spearheading the referendum drive was Berlusconi's arch nemesis, former anti-corruption magistrate Antonio Di Pietro.
Italian newspapers on Saturday were rife with speculation that coalition leaders are calculating it is better to hold elections this spring than risk having them later under a system less favorable the winner. The government could also try to rush through electoral reform to pre-empt the referendum.
Berlusconi has said his immediate priority for Parliament is pushing through a law to crack down on wiretapping. He has been stung by revelations of hundreds of embarrassing conversations involving him or associates in a probe of a scandal in which women were allegedly paid for Berlusconi to enjoy sexually at his private villas.
Berlusconi denies ever paying for sex and contends the many judicial cases against him are the work of left-leaning prosecutors determined to ruin the media mogul's political career.