Silvio Berlusconi to conquer the Italian presidency, "a tragic joke"

Overwhelmed by court cases, fragile health and a sulphurous reputation, Silvio Berlusconi should, in theory, have difficulty climbing the Quirinal of Rome. But to draw a line on the “Cavaliere” remains nevertheless a risky bet whereas this one is seriously engaged to run for the Italian presidency at the end of the month.

He is the most criticized Italian politician since World War II. Silvio Berlusconi was once described by Indro Montanelli, Italy’s best-known post-war journalist, as a “disease that can only be cured with vaccination”. The vaccine, he said on the eve of the 2001 general elections, consisted of “a healthy injection of Berlusconi in the seat of the Prime Minister, of Berlusconi in the seat of the president, of Berlusconi in the seat of the Pope or wherever he is. wish. It is only after that that we will be immune. “

Regarding immunity, Indro Montanelli, like the many other experts who have repeatedly criticized the Cavaliere (the Knight), was wrong. Silvio Berlusconi’s political career – and his popularity – has continued to climb.

After having served all or part of four separate terms at the head of government, longer than any other leader since Benito Mussolini, Silvio Berlusconi is now determined to climb the Quirinal, the highest hill in Rome and the seat of the Italian Presidency. Always as a storyteller, he presented his quest as the fulfillment of a childhood promise made to his mother.

This week, he is due to welcome other right-wing leaders to his Roman villa, in the hope of gaining the support of their lawmakers when Parliament begins the long process of electing Italy’s next head of state, the January 24th. He also reached out to MPs from other political groups, including those deemed most hostile to his candidacy, knowing that if he wants to succeed outgoing president Sergio Mattarella, he will have to recover votes in the camps. rivals.

Political vacuum

Silvio Berlusconi’s unlikely attempt at the presidency, at the age of 85, comes just over a year after he was gravely ill with Covid-19, five years after he suffered open heart surgery, and a decade after he was sentenced to prison for tax evasion and expelled from public service. Unsurprisingly, his presidential ambitions have aroused perplexity and amusement, not least because the former prime minister is still on trial for paying alleged bribes to witnesses in a case of underage prostitution linked to his famous “Bunga parties” Bunga “.

Giuseppe Provenzano, deputy leader of the center-left Democratic Party, called Cavaliere’s candidacy a “tragic joke”.

However, “Berlusconi himself is certainly very serious,” said Maurizio Cotta, a professor of political science at the University of Siena. ‘on leaving.

“There is currently no strong political majority in the country, and no political leader with a clear strategy,” adds the academic. “Berlusconi is making the most of this vacuum, just as he did in 1994, after the collapse of the old post-war parties.”

“To be elected would seal his revenge”

Two decades before Emmanuel Macron took a political party out of his hat and organized a victory at the Elysee Palace, Silvio Berlusconi, a media mogul without political references, performed the same sleight of hand in Italy in half the time of time.

Composed of marketing strategists in business suits, the Forza Italia (Go Italy) party was only five months old when its founder came to power in the spring of 1994. If its first administration, very inexperienced, was quickly collapsed, Silvio Berlusconi, turned political mogul, continued to dominate the chessboard for the next two decades, rebounding with further electoral triumphs in 2001 and 2008.

It took the eurozone debt crisis, a bitter party split and gruesome tales of orgies with dancers and prostitutes in his private residence for Silvio Berlusconi to be finally ousted from power for the last time in 2011. , under the boos of the demonstrators gathered in the center of Rome to celebrate his departure.

His legal troubles finally caught up with him the following year, when he was jailed for tax evasion and expelled from power, although his prison term was commuted due to his advanced age.

Since then, Silvio Berlusconi has continued to act in the shadows, assuming the role of kingmaker. But today, he wants to regain his place in the limelight.

“Being elected to the Quirinal would seal his revenge after being expelled from Parliament because of his legal problems,” explains Maurizio Cotta. “This would prove Silvio Berlusconi’s assertions about a conspiracy against him, and would mark the peak of his political career.”

Playing on the fragile balance of power

The summit of the Italian political system, the Quirinal sits somewhere between the powerful French presidency and the essentially ceremonial role of the German head of state. Its important powers are manifested especially in times of political instability. Instability which Italy does not lack.

“When political parties can run the country on their own, the president tends to step aside,” Maurizio Cotta analyzes. “However, it is increasingly common for parliament to be deadlocked, forcing the president to intervene. This pattern is expected to continue in the near future, with no immediate prospect of building a strong coalition. “

In recent years, Italian presidents have played a decisive role in forming coalitions, approving or vetoing ministerial appointments, and appointing technocratic cabinets and prime ministers – including current Prime Minister Mario Draghi.

The former head of the European Central Bank has been presented as the strongest potential candidate for the presidency. But analysts fear that an early departure of Mario Draghi could upset the delicate balance of power within his government, just as Italy emerges from the devastation caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

This is a fear on which Silvio Berlusconi sought to play, warning of new elections and potential instability if Mario Draghi moved from the Prime Minister’s office to the presidency.

Everything for the presidency

In an effort to improve his own credentials, the Cavaliere presented himself as an experienced statesman, able to place himself above the political fray.

Last November, he sent an anthology of his speeches to almost all of the roughly 1,000 members of parliament who will elect the next president. Recently, he praised a citizen income welfare system championed by the anti-system 5 Star Movement in an attempt to influence some of its members, who are usually among its worst enemies. .

The former real estate, advertising and media mogul, who earned his first salary going door to door selling vacuum cleaners, is doing everything to promote his candidacy. According to the Italian daily La Repubblica, he spent much of the holiday season distributing greetings and gifts and making in-person phone calls to lawmakers from the left, right and center.

“Berlusconi desperately wants this post. He is doing everything he can to get it, collecting the votes one by one,” reports Maurizio Cotta. “He remains the great entanglement: an unrivaled seller and in this case, a seller of himself.”

“Guarantor of corruption”

In the Italian political system, candidates for the Quirinal must win two-thirds of the votes to win the presidency. However, if no one achieves that goal in the first three rounds – and they usually do – the bar is lowered to 50% plus one.

To cross this threshold, Silvio Berlusconi then hopes to obtain about fifty votes out of a total of 113 “unaffiliated” legislators, counting on the secrecy of the vote. He must also secure the massive support of the center-right bloc, which will require the official support of the nationalist rights of Matteo Salvini and Giorgia Meloni.

“The center-right is united and convinced in its support for Berlusconi,” Matteo Salvini, the leader of the Lega (hard right), said on Thursday, seeking to dispel rumors of divisions on the right. However, his party is already preparing a plan B in the event of the failure of the Cavaliere’s candidacy for the presidency.

According to the political science professor interviewed by France 24, Matteo Salvini and Giorgia Meloni are torn between their desire to maintain the unity of the center-right and their reluctance to let Silvio Berlusconi restore his leadership on the bloc. “They know that Berlusconi would divert a large part of the spotlight from them,” he explained. “My hunch is that they don’t want him in the president’s seat but don’t know how to say it.”

From a mathematical point of view, Silvio Berlusconi’s chances of winning the presidency seem slim, says Maurizio Cotta, adding, however: “An accident is always possible – and that would send a very bad signal”.

Last month, Fatto Quotidiano journalists launched a petition urging Italian lawmakers not to give their support to the quadruple former prime minister. “The President of the Republic must be the guarantor of the Constitution, [alors que] Silvio Berlusconi is the guarantor of corruption and prostitution “, they wrote in the petition, signed by more than 200,000 people.

In addition to his conviction for tax evasion, the litany of legal troubles of the billionaire “is not a minor problem,” adds Maurizio Cotta. “Berlusconi is neither above the fray, nor legally ‘clean’. Some cases have ended with his acquittal, others with the expiration of the limitation period. In any case, they draw an unfit profile. as president. “

Article adapted from English by Pauline Rouquette, find the original version here.

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