Silvio Berlusconi, the three-time prime minister and two-time convicted lawbreaker seems to be the great victor in Italy by out-manoeuvring rivals during an eight-week political stalemate and becoming the key figure in talks for a new coalition government.
A year and a half after resigning in near-disgrace, the 76- year-old billionaire is the main support for the talks that began on Thursday to form the next Cabinet after the Democratic Party’s Enrico Letta was appointed prime minister. Berlusconi and his 241 lawmakers, the second-biggest contingent, hold the votes Letta, 46, needs to secure a parliamentary majority.
Berlusconi is one of the last of his generation standing after outgoing Premier Mario Monti, 70, was rejected by voters in February and 61-year-old Pier Luigi Bersani was discarded in a Democratic Party mutiny. Berlusconi’s resilience, even as he battles criminal charges from tax fraud to sexual misconduct, has gained him the admiration of allies and adversaries alike.
“Silvio Berlusconi is the real winner,” Nichi Vendola, an opponent and head of the Left, Ecology and Freedom party, said April 20 after the media mogul laid the groundwork to be part of the governing alliance. Vendola, a Bersani ally, said today he won’t support Letta.
Inconclusive Feb. 24-25 elections split parliament in three blocs and left the Democratic Party, the top vote getter, with no clear path to a majority. The party, known as the PD, initially refused to consider a deal with Berlusconi while Bersani fruitlessly pursued Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement, the third-biggest force.
That strategy failed, and Bersani conceded defeat April 19. The next day, Berlusconi and the PD eased the deadlock by joining to re-appoint President Giorgio Napolitano, 87, to a seven-year term. Letta’s mandate, given by the president after consultations with party leaders except Grillo, who has renounced traditional politics, signalled a broader accord.
“I am appealing to all political forces and their sense of responsibility,” said Letta at the presidential palace in Rome. “All of the essential reforms must be done together with the largest possible participation.”
Letta’s push to engage Berlusconi would reunite what were the two biggest parties in Monti’s coalition, which split up in December. While Berlusconi has said he is willing to cooperate, he has also threatened to send Italy back to the polls if he doesn’t get what he wants in a partnership government.
Berlusconi and his People of Liberty party, or PDL, is pushing for the abolition and refund of a property tax, known as the IMU, on first homes. The PDL is also resisting the possible appointment of Interior Minister Anna Maria Cancellieri and will seek to control the Economic Development ministry, which regulates the media, according to Italian media reports.