Italian election could see Silvio Berlusconi back as kingmaker after scandals by Remo Nogarotto
Convicted of tax fraud, his life mired in a string of scandals, Italy’s four-time prime minister Silvio Berlusconi was regarded as a spent force just a few years ago.
“He was a political corpse in every sense of the word,” campaign strategist Remo Nogarotto said.
“His political credibility was at ground zero. He was weighed down by scandal both of a salacious kind and a corporate kind.”
The former NSW Liberal party director, who now works for Crosby Textor in Milan, cannot believe Mr Berlusconi now finds himself in the situation where he could act as a kingmaker following the Italian election on Sunday.
“If you were to say to me in 2013 that a mere five years on, not only would he have reinvented himself, but would be occupying centre stage in an election campaign, I would have laughed,” he said.
The 81-year-old is not running for prime minister on Sunday. He cannot hold public office until next year following a six-year ban over his tax fraud conviction.
Instead he has spent the campaign leading his party Forza Italia and building a coalition with other parties of the right, including the League and the Brothers of Italy. He said he aimed to act as a “director” of the next government.
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Just days out from voting, Mr Berlusconi announced Antonio Tajani would be his candidate for prime minister.
Currently the president of the European Parliament, Mr Tajani helped form Forza Italia back in the 1990s and has been a loyal colleague through the former prime minister’s scandals.
However, if Mr Berlusconi’s coalition wins power, with Forza Italia as the senior partner, Mr Nogarotto is not sure whether Mr Tajani will last long as prime minister.
“His [Berlusconi’s] ban on holding public office expires in 2019. He is the cagiest of any politician I have ever witnessed at close quarters,” he said.
“He has announced his candidate for prime minister. That guy will hang around the shop for a year or two and make way for ‘the great man’.
“I’ve got no doubt that somewhere in the recesses of his mind lies that strategy.”
‘I was not sure Berlusconi was a mortal political being’
Mario Monti succeeded Mr Berlusconi in 2011 when he stood down as prime minister in the midst of the European debt crisis.
Speaking in his office in the Palazzo Giustiniani in Rome, Mr Monti seemed less shocked by the political revival of Forza Italia’s leader.
“I’ve always told foreign friends and colleagues over the last few years that I was not sure Silvio Berlusconi was a mortal political being,” he said.
An economist and competition expert, Mr Monti is highly sceptical about the 81-year-old’s plans to bring in a flat tax, if his coalition wins on Sunday.
“Italians may be hoping for a lighter state with smaller tax pressure from Mr Berlusconi. The liberal revolution that he is promising was already promised by him two or three times in the past,” he said.
“To me the most serious problem we have in Italy is not constitutional reform, it’s not institutional reform, but it’s tax evasion.
“So I believe that Italians should also be looking for leaders who are impeccable from that point of view.”
While the most recent opinion polls place the anti-establishment Five Star Movement ahead of other parties, those same polls suggest the coalition led by Forza Italia will gain more combined votes. No one party is expected to gain a majority in the lower house.
Mr Monti does not believe Five Star will form a coalition government, even if it gain the most votes.
“I would not expect a coalition of the populists, Five Star, and the League coming up and governing,” he said.
Instead he is predicting a German style “grand coalition” of centre-left and centre-right parties.
It is a scenario that Mr Nogarotto can see unfolding as well.
“There aren’t many things you’d back home in this election, but one thing you can back is Berlusconi using his charm to be able to cajole and reach out to the other side, the centre-left to form a grand coalition,” he said.
“If I had some quiet money on this, I’d be putting it on a grand coalition orchestrated by one Silvio Berlusconi.”