Berlusconi taps Fini political successor


ROME -- In the first significant indication that he may be ready to step away from politics and focus on his business interests, media tycoon and two-time Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi anointed Gianfranco Fini his political successor Monday.

Berlusconi is 70 years old and in questionable physical health, so Monday's statement is not a complete surprise. But it is significant because Berlusconi has long hinted that he might remain politically active despite circumstances.

The move to appoint Fini as the de facto head of the center-right political coation may also be designed to let Berlusconi concentrate on opposing a proposed media sector reform that could severely limit the strength of Berlusconi's Mediaset networks.

Over the weekend, Berlusconi vowed to head a massive protest against the reforms, at one point promising that 5 million Italians would "take to the streets in protest." But he later backed away from those remarks.

Berlusconi heads Forza Italia, the largest party in the center-right coalition ousted from power last year by the coalition headed by former European Commission President Romano Prodi. Fini heads the National Alliance -- the party that evolved from the remains of Benito Mussolini's wartime Fascist party, and the second-largest member of the opposition.

A spokesman for Forza Italia confirmed and expanded on Berlusconi's remarks about Fini, saying in an interview that if the center-right wins the next national vote, it is Fini who will form a government and become prime minister.