Italy's Silvio Berlusconi, Facing Possible Politics Ban, Changes Party Name to Popular Soccer Cheer

3:54 PM PST 07/23/2013 by Eric J. Lyman
Johannes Eisele/AFP/Getty Images
Silvio Berlusconi

Undeterred by a Supreme Court case that could end his political career, the billionaire media tycoon is engaging in a high-profile name change to his troubled coalition.

ROME – It is apparently easier to take the media mogul out of politics than to take politics out of the media mogul.

Silvio Berlusconi, Italy’s billionaire tycoon and three-time prime minister who may be a week away from the opening of a Supreme Court case that could ban him from politics for life, said Tuesday he will change the name of his political coalition back to its original name -- Forza Italia. There is no indication the movement will change its stances on any issues.

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Berlusconi founded the Forza Italia -- it translates to “Go Italy,” a popular soccer cheer -- movement 20 years ago, when he transformed his notoriety as a television network and soccer team owner into a political movement. The movement has been a protagonist in Italian politics ever since, and as it matured Berlusconi opted for a more serious sounding name, the People of Freedom party, best known by its Italian initials PDL.

Using Facebook, Berlusconi said Tuesday that he is reverting back to the movement’s original name in order to reconnect with its roots, in order to “focus on the young and labor leaders to engage them in a common destiny.” The change will become official in September.

Under the PDL moniker, Berlusconi nearly rallied to a dramatic victory in February’s national elections. It fell just short of winning a plurality of the votes cast, sparking a two-month political standoff that resulted in Enrico Letta being named prime minister with a broad support coalition that includes Berlusconi’s allies.

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But Berlusconi’s party has had its share of problems since then, most recently when Minister of Interior Angelino Alfano, once tabbed as Berlusconi’s political successor, faced a confidence vote in parliament after he mistakenly ordered the deportation of a dissident family from Kazakhstan after they had been given asylum in Italy.

But Berlusconi’s legal woes represent a bigger set of problems: The 76-year-old tycoon has been found guilty of tax evasion and false accounting in connection with his Mediaset television and cinema empire, illegally wire tapping a political rival and printing damaging transcripts in a newspaper he controls, and of abuse of power and paying an under-age girl for sex. All three verdicts are under appeal, and the Supreme Court is set to hear the tax fraud case starting next Tuesday. If the court upholds the verdict, Berlusconi will be banned from politics for life.

Twitter: @EricJLyman

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