Berlusconi might yet return to lead PDL party in next Italian election


He hasn’t gone away, you know, as word has it that Silvio Berlusconi may re-enter politics

“SO BERLUSCONI will be back on the pitch for 2013, will he? Now which pitch would that be, San Siro?”

Reports this week that former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi wants to return to lead his People of Freedom (PDL) party at next year’s general election has not been met with total approval.

The above comment came from Berlusconi’s former long-time ally, Northern League leader Roberto Maroni. Others were less diplomatic, with senior Democratic Party figure Stefano Fassina, describing it as “bad news for Italy”.

Media commentators have been speculating for weeks that Berlusconi (76) is itching to get back into the forefront of the political fray. Less than eight months ago, with Italy apparently on the brink of collapse, he had reluctantly agreed to step down as prime minister to make way for the “technocrat”, Mario Monti.

Many would argue that Berlusconi’s governance over the last decade, eight years of which he was in the prime minister’s office, was a major factor in the Italian crisis.

Commentators have said one of the trump cards used by Monti at that dramatic, Brussels summit earlier this month was the threat that if his EU partners did not agree to measures to calm tensions in the debt market, then it could compromise his “technocratic” government and even pave the way for a return of Berlusconi.

That threat reportedly caused minds to focus.

So why should he want to return? As memorably remarked by former prime minister Giulio Andreotti many years ago, being in power weighs heavily but being out of power is much worse, all the more so if you only make headlines these days because of your alleged involvement in an underage “bunga, bunga” sex scandal.

Given that just months ago, Berlusconi had made much of handing over the PDL party to his “dauphin”, Angelino Alfano, many pointed to the apparent volte face. La Repubblica commented: “In his total unreliability, Mr Berlusconi remains completely predictable.”

Italy of Values leader Antonio Di Pietro, however, had another more cynical reading, saying this week: “It’s obvious that he still has a few matters he needs to sort out . . .”

Indeed, his commercial interests may provide the most logical explanation for his intended return. In particular, his Mediaset TV empire continues to feel the pinch, with shares in May hitting their lowest rating since their 1996 listing while the net profit of €103 million for the first quarter in 2012 was down by 85 per cent.

The fact that the Monti government this week nominated a former Bank of Italy figure, Anna Maria Tarantola, chairwoman of state broadcaster RAI may be giving Berlusconi pause for thought. While he was in office, there was always the sensation that he appointed political lackeys to key positions in RAI to render his major TV rival less effective.

While there seems little or no chance of Berlusconi winning anything like the 37.4 per cent of the vote he returned in 2008, he could settle for far less.

With electoral reform proposals before parliament, many believe he will opt for a new proportional representation system (without majority bonus seats) which, de facto, would mean that no single party or alliance would win the 2013 election, paving the way for another broad-based coalition, not dissimilar to the Monti government of PDL-PD-UDC forces.

In such a context, Berlusconi might hope to pick up a 20 per cent vote that would give him a large say in any forthcoming government.

Whichever way it goes, we may not have seen the last of Mr B just yet.