Italy's Berlusconi Taps Daughter as Political Heir

Silvio and Marina Berlusconi

The 46-year-old Marina Berlusconi has no previous political experience, but her new role could be part of an effort to confront her father's possible ban from politics.

FLORENCE, Italy -- Silvio Berlusconi has tapped daughter Marina Berlusconi as his political heir, according to Italian media reports, raising the possibility that he is preparing for life after a possible ban from politics.

The 76-year-old billionaire media kingpin and three-time prime minister was convicted Monday of paying an underage girl for sex and abusing his power to try to get her off on a minor shoplifting charge. The conviction carried a sentence of seven years behind bars and a lifetime ban from politics.

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Though Berlusconi’s attorneys have indicated they will aggressively appeal the ruling, it’s possible that the decision to anoint the 46-year-old Marina as the new head of his political movement is a concession that, even if the jail time he faces is eventually overturned or reduced to house arrest, the ban from politics could stick.

It is also possible Berlusconi is making the move so he can concentrate on his legal defense or because he believes Marina is better equipped to face off against 38-year-old Florence mayor Matteo Renzi, a young and dynamic figure seen as the most likely candidate to lead the center-left in the next elections.

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Whatever the motive, the Berlusconis have made it clear a change has been made. “Silvio Berlusconi is convinced that the future of the parties is with Marina,” said Luigi Bisignani, a journalist and close family friend. The decision was reportedly made before the Milan court handed down its verdict Monday.

Marina, the former prime minister’s eldest child, is currently chair of Mondadori, the publishing company her father controls, and of family holding company Fininvest. She has never been directly involved in politics in the past, generally keeping a lower profile than her gregarious father.

The elder Berlusconi already handed at least some control of his Mediaset TV and cinema empire to Pier Silvio Berlusconi, Marina’s brother and the second oldest of Silvio Berlusconi’s five children.

This is not the first time the billionaire named a political heir. In November 2011, after stepping down as prime minister amid personal and legal problems and fears Italy would fall victim to the European debt crisis, Berlusconi named former minister Angelino Alfano as head of his political movement. But Alfano proved less adept at rallying support than Berlusconi, and late last year Berlusconi announced he would come out of retirement. His participation in February’s national elections helped precipitate a stalemate between the three main political blocks, setting up a two-month government crisis before Enrico Letta emerged as prime minister.

Berlusconi’s forces are part of the government, and earlier this week, Berlusconi met with lawmakers to set up their political priorities going forward. Berlusconi also met with Italian president Giorgio Napolitano to reassure him that the Letta government could continue to count on Berlusconi’s support.

Twitter: @EricJLyman