Silvio Berlusconi’s hand-picked successor is only 41 years old and has already served as the youngest justice minister in Italian history.

Otherwise, Angelino Alfano is largely an unknown entity outside of Italy.

Berlusconi, who has agreed to resign once the Roman Parliament passes a tough new budget reform package, is hoping that new elections will be held as soon as next February. At that time, his anointed one Alfano will run under the People for Freedom (PDL) banner.

Berlusconi told the La Stampa newspaper on Tuesday night: I shall not be standing again. Indeed, I feel liberated. Now is Alfano's moment. He'll be our candidate for prime minister. He's very clever, better than one might think, and his leadership has been accepted by all.

Umberto Bossi, the leader of the Northern League party – a key member of Berlusconi’s coalition government, also endorsed Alfano.

Alfano, a Sicilian lawyer and current secretary-general of PDL, is, however, not without controversy.

Within Italy itself, he is best known as having crafted and steered through parliament a highly questionable law that sought to protect his boss and benefactor (Berlusconi) and other top government officials from prosecution by proposing immunity – that law was overturned by the constitutional court in 2009.

Alfano’s relative youth – which Berlusconi has suggested is a benefit – may actually serve as a disadvantage, particularly in light of the dangerous economic climate the country is sinking into.

According to a report in The Daily Telegraph newspaper in the UK, Alfano joined Berlusconi’s now-defunct Forza Italia party in 1994, when he was only 23, after watching him on a television program.

“I saw a businessman on television who had a passion for freedom, who had the sun in his pocket,” Alfano said.

 However, there may be other clouds hanging over Alfano as well.

In 2002, the Italian newspaper La Repubblica reported that in 1996 Alfano attended the wedding of the daughter of Croce Napoli, who was reputed to be the Mafia boss of Palma di Montechiaro (which is not far from Alfano’s native city of Agrigento). At the time Alfano was a deputy of the Sicilian Regional Assembly.

An amateur video of the festivities showed Alfano warmly greeting the Mafioso.

Initially, Alfano said he had no recollection of attending the wedding and claimed he had never heard of Napoli. Later he changed his story and said he did attend, but only was acquainted with the groom.