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ROME – Faced with the rising popularity of comedian, blogger and activist Beppe Grillo as a leading political opposition figure, former prime minister and billionaire media tycoon Silvio Berlusconi said that the political party he founded might fight fire with fire and select popular television presenter Gerry Scotti as its head.
Grillo, a left-leaning comedian who started the Five-Star political party in 2009, polled well in local elections held a month ago, winning nearly 20 percent of the vote in several large northern cities. He is poised to repeat the success in regional elections in Sardinia next week, and has vowed to field a complete list of candidates in parliamentary elections next year.
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The 63-year-old Grillo is a compelling speaker with a large popular following, something Berlusconi said is impossible for a traditional politician like Angelino Alfano — the former cabinet minister Berlusconi tapped as his heir as the head of the People of Freedom party he founded — to successfully confront.
Berlusconi’s solution? Convince another well-known and skilled speaker to take the job. Enter Gerry Scotti.
The well liked Scotti, 55, has served in parliament, where he was a member of the lower house for the Italian Socialist Party between 1988 and 1992. But he is more closely associated with Mediaset, the broadcast and cinema giant Berlusconi controls. He has made a name for himself as the host of popular quiz shows, including the Italian version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire?, and other programs including Passaparola (Word of Mouth), and The Money Drop. He has also appeared in films, Italian situation comedies, and as a pitch man for Italian consumer products.
Berlusconi’s remarks sent People of Freedom officials scrambling to stress that no change in leadership for the party was planned, and for his part, Scotti told Italian television Wednesday that even if the notion were a serious one, he would not be interested.
“I never received any proposal for this,” he said. “Nothing is further from my thoughts than politics.”
Berlusconi stepped down as prime minister in November amid personal and legal scandal and the fear that Italy could fall victim to the European debt crisis. He was replaced by former European commissioner Mario Monti as the head of a technocrat government charged with pushing through difficult economic reforms.
Berlusconi vowed to support the Monti government, but in recent weeks support from Berlusconi and other figures has waned as Monti’s support levels have eroded during the country’s worsening economic malaise.
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