ROME – Silvio Berlusconi’s flirtation with returning to the political world he left in disgrace just 13 months ago turned into a serious romance Friday, after a top lieutenant said the 76-year-old media kingpin would run for prime minister next year and a web site touting Berlusconi’s accomplishments during his last nine years in office was made public.
Berlusconi announced he would run for prime minister earlier this year but then quickly changed his mind after the plan failed to gain traction. After abandoning plans to run, Berlusconi said he would support the appointed government headed by Mario Monti.
But lately, Berlusconi has begun criticizing the difficult austerity measures Monti has pushed through in order to strengthen the economy that risked falling victim to the European debt crisis when Berlusconi resigned.
In addition to the economic woes under Berlusconi, the billionaire tycoon was also hounded by legal troubles. Two months ago, he was sentenced to four years behind bars for tax fraud connected to the Mediaset television and cinema giant he controls (he is appealing the verdict). He is also standing trial for abuse of power and for paying a 17-year-old girl, known as Ruby the Heart Stealer, for sex.
But despite all that, Berlusconi said earlier this week that he was being “assailed by pleas” from a public eager to see him return to politics. On Thursday, members of the People of Liberty political party he founded walked out on a Senate confidence vote in a move that could force Monti to resign. And on Friday, Angelino Alfano, Berlusconi’s hand-picked political successor, announced Berlusconi would run for prime minister next year.
Also on Friday, Berlusconi’s allies unveiled a new web site, whose name can be translated to “Nine Years, Berlusconi Government.” The site details accomplishments of the Berlusconi governments that ran Italy for all but 18 months between 2001 and 2011, complete with an upward trending timeline and upbeat photos. The site is meant to draw a parallel with the difficult economic period that has marked Monti’s year as prime minister.
A trouble-filled seven-month term as prime minister, in 1994 and 1995, was left off the site.
The web site and latest developments received strong coverage on the three national television networks Berlusconi’s Mediaset controls, along with a national network in Spain, a major film studio and movie distribution arm, the country’s largest ad buyer, and several print media.
Mediaset has struggled with Berlusconi out of office. The company’s stock hit new all-time lows several times in recent weeks, as its revenue stream slowed dramatically due to the country’s economic malaise, rising costs, and reduced ad revenue. The company has sold off assets and is reportedly shopping its interests in The Space Cinema, a large exhibitor chain.
Earlier this week, major polling companies released the results of opinion polls showing that around 20 percent of Italians had a favorable opinion of Berlusconi, compared to around 50 percent for Monti and between 20 percent and 40 percent for a half dozen other political figures.