Italy's Silvio Berlusconi Could Seek to Return as Prime Minister

The billionaire media tycoon's hand-picked political heir predicts the he will seek a new term next year.

ISCHIA, Italy – Silvio Berlusconi, Italy’s billionaire media mogul and disgraced former prime minister, will "probably" run for prime minister again in 2013, the head of the political party Berlusconi founded said Wednesday.

The 75-year-old Berlusconi resigned as prime minister last November amid personal and legal scandals and fears that Italy could fall victim to the European debt crisis. He was replaced by a temporary technocrat government led by economist and former European Commissioner Mario Monti, who has pushed through difficult economic reforms while seeing his approval rating halved from the 80-percent levels he enjoyed when first taking office.

According to Angelino Alfano, secretary general of the People of Freedom party Berlusconi founded and Berlusconi’s hand-picked political successor, Berlusconi is mulling a return to office in elections scheduled for next year.

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"We are all asking him to run and I believe that in the end he will decide to lead the party," Alfano said in an interview aired by Sky-Italia’s TG24 news program. Monti’s mandate is scheduled to end next year, and so far there is no clear favorite to take over as prime minister when Monti is gone.

Pollsters say that Berlusconi’s approval levels have risen since he left office, but that they remain low, with only around one-third of Italians saying they support him. Worse still, his People of Freedom party would win only around 18 percent of the seats in parliament if elections were held today, according to the polling firm Opinioni. That’s the lowest level of support for Berlusconi’s party since he first entered politics in 1994.

The most likely path to Berlusconi becoming prime minister again is that his party would finish elections in 2013 with one of the largest voting blocs in elections in which right-of-center parties win a majority, and then Italian President Giorgio Napolitano would have to ask Berlusconi to attempt to cobble together a coalition government from among the parties from the right.

Berlusconi has been restless since leaving office. After he resigned, Berlusconi promised to dedicate himself to the operations of the Mediaset cinema and television empire he founded. But it only took a few weeks before he started weighing in on the political issues of the day, most recently stating he was studying the appeal of activist and comedian Beppe Grillo two hours a day in preparation for "a return to the streets."

But the statements from Alfano are the first from a high-level source officially speculating that Berlusconi could return to politics as a candidate for prime minister.

Berlusconi faces several open lawsuits alleging, among other things, tax evasion, corruption, abuse of power and paying an underage girl for sex. If he somehow does manage to return to office, one fringe benefit will be that he could enjoy immunity from prosecution on at least some of those charges.


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