Rome - With his ratings at record lows, scandal-hit Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi on Thursday quipped his party should change its name to "Go Pussy!" in the latest gaffe likely to incense swathes of voters.
"We will change the name of the People of Freedom because people no longer carry it in their hearts," the 75-year-old told lawmakers from his ruling coalition in parliament, Italian news media reported.
"We will examine any suggestions," he added.
Berlusconi then reportedly joked: "I'm told the name that would have the biggest success is 'Go Pussy!' "
‘Sums up Berlusconi’
The billionaire tycoon first entered the political arena in the early 1990s with a party called "Go Italy!" - a popular football chant.
"I have to say Berlusconi's latest quip wasn't bad," said Antonio Borghesi, a parliamentarian from the Italy of Values opposition party.
"'Go Pussy!' just about sums up his lifestyle and his way of doing politics."
Berlusconi's jokes - often vulgar and misogynistic - have provoked the ire of feminists, anti-racism campaigners and the Catholic Church.
Leading Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco has denounced "behaviour that is contrary to public dignity" and "difficult to reconcile with institutional decorum".
Aldo Di Biagio, another Berlusconi critic from the right-wing Future and Freedom party, said: "Berlusconi should stop coming to parliament to tell ridiculous jokes to his deputies who are running away."
"His time is up. He should resign for the good of Italy."
Another sex scandal
Even a deputy from Berlusconi's own party, Barbara Saltamartini, said the prime minister's joke was "inappropriate and not funny".
But she quickly added: "We all know and appreciate the irony and great sympathy of Berlusconi."
Berlusconi is a defendant in three ongoing trials for bribery, tax fraud, abuse of office and paying for sex with a then 17-year-old nightclub dancer.
Italian newspapers have also published sordid details from a new sex scandal in which Berlusconi was allegedly provided with prostitutes in return for favours.
The prime minister's popularity rating was at a record low of 24% in September, according to the latest poll by the IPR Marketing Institute.