Three-time prime minister Silvio Berlusconi has never been afraid to take a gamble during the 17 years in which he has dominated Italian politics and his decision to run for office again at the age of 76 seems like a final roll of the dice.
Mr. Berlusconi confirmed the long-expected news almost casually on Saturday, telling reporters at a training field of his AC Milan soccer club that he had reluctantly decided to run. In an entry on his Facebook page, he said he had tried in vain to find a worthy successor.
“It’s not that we haven’t looked. We have, and how! But there isn’t one,” he wrote.
The popularity of his People of Freedom party is at an all-time low of around 15 per cent and his international credibility is still in tatters a year after he was driven from office by his inability to tackle a mounting debt crisis.
Mr. Berlusconi’s advisers urged him not to return. yet after a year of political, business and legal setbacks the scandal-plagued media tycoon probably felt he had nothing to lose.
He was sentenced in October to four years in prison for tax fraud, although he has appealed, and risks another sentence in an ongoing trial for having sex with an underaged prostitute. The share price of his Mediaset broadcasting company has lost around 40 per cent since he left office, deprived of his political protection. Even physically, Mr. Berlusconi seems a shadow of his former self. After several face lifts and hair transplants, he often appears puffy and is finally starting to look his age.
Yet, for all this, he still enjoys a hard core of support among millions of Italians. – and if there is one thing Mr. Berlusconi is good at, it is fighting elections.
Another victory will almost certainly be beyond him but he may just garner enough support to deprive the centre-left of a clear majority, giving him a say in the makeup of whatever government can be formed after the election expected in March.