Berlusconi 'working on solutions' as he hints at comeback


HE MAY have been jeered from office last year. He may be on trial accused of paying for sex with a 17-year-old girl. And last week a prosecutor in Milan asked for him to be locked up in jail for three years and eight months for allegedly shady business practices.

But over the weekend Italy was abuzz with speculation that Silvio Berlusconi is planning a comeback – and could return to lead the right into an early general election, perhaps as standard-bearer of a party bent on withdrawing Italy from the euro.

The media tycoon gave his clearest indication yet that he is planning a return at the end of last week, when he told an audience of young right-wingers: “I’m working on solutions. I’m still here.” And then, as if speaking from a campaign platform, he added: “Give me 51 per cent [of the votes].”

His cry brought his audience to their feet, chanting: “Silvio, Silvio.” Speaking as if he had already taken back the leadership of the Freedom People, the movement he founded in 2007, Mr Berlusconi said he intended to change its name and ensure that half its candidates at the next election were women.

It was the latest in a succession of interventions that have Italy’s political class wondering about a Berlusconi comeback in a more eurosceptic guise. The former prime minister recently warned that Germany “should get out of the euro, or others will do so”. Last week, he said that regaining its own currency would have advantages for an export-led economy such as Italy’s.

It’s all a far cry from Berlusconi’s ignominious exit last November, when, having governed Italy for eight of the previous 10 years, he handed in his resignation to the strains of “hallelujah” from a crowd outside the presidential palace. By then, a flood of leaked claims about his “bunga bunga” parties had turned the billionaire politician into a figure of international ridicule.

In the final weeks of his leadership, fellow EU leaders made strenuous efforts to avoid being photographed with him, and almost his only high-level friendship was an intensely controversial one with Russia’s leader, Vladimir Putin.

Berlusconi’s party still has the votes in parliament to bring down the unelected technocratic government led by Mario Monti. A snap vote in the autumn would have effects far beyond Italy, because it would bring down the curtain on Mr Monti and his team, put into office last November to pass unpopular measures demanded by Italy’s euro zone partners that Berlusconi’s government had been reluctant to introduce. Their fall would almost certainly plunge the euro into renewed crisis. – (Guardian service)