In Italy, Berlusconi Comeback Seems Farfetched

The political right is divided and Italians are altogether tired of the almost eighty-year old former premier.

Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi is welcomed at the headquarters of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in Paris, France, March 27, 2010
Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi is welcomed at the headquarters of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in Paris, France, March 27, 2010 (OECD/Benjamin Renout)

As Italy’s former prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, finishes ten months of community service, some conservatives are hoping for a comeback.

With the right divided, however, it seems unlikely the 78-year old can reclaim his central role in Italian politics.

Berlusconi still leads the right-wing Forza Italia party he founded two decades ago but is barred from returning to public office as a result of a conviction for tax fraud. He hopes the end of his sentence can get the ban overturned. But even if the courts agree, it seems Italians have tired of the former media tycoon who was premier four times between 1994 and 2011.

Polls show support for Forza Italia has nearly halved since Berlusconi was forced to resign at the height of the European sovereign debt crisis in late 2011, down from 25 to 13 percent.

Lega Nord, the northern separatist party that backed Berlusconi’s previous governments, is more popular. Leader Matteo Salvini has transformed the league into a populist anti-euro and anti-immigration party that can reasonably claim to be the only right-wing opposition.

Moderate conservatives have split from Forza Italia to form Nuovo Centrodestra, a splinter party that is led by incumbent interior minister, Angelino Alfano.

Nuovo Centrodestra supports the left-wing government of Prime Minister Matteo Renzi who is Italy’s most popular politician by far.

Berlusconi, too, has done deals with Renzi in order to simplify Italy’s electoral system and reduce the Senate, which now shares lawmaking powers with the lower house of parliament, to a consultative body of regional deputies.

It is unclear if that alliance still holds. Forza Italia said last month the pact had been “broken” when Renzi failed to consult Berlusconi on the appointment of a new president. This week, Berlusconi announced he would oppose some of the measures backed by Renzi he previously supported, calling the prime minister’s Partito Democratico “arrogant and domineering.”