Bunga, bunga: Silvio Berlusconi returns to Italian politics
ROME | Bunga bunga is back. Silvio Berlusconi may be best known around the world for his “bunga bunga” sex parties and convictions for corruption that have regularly undermined a career unlike any other in postwar Italian politics. The last time he held political office, he was forced to resign with the country on the brink of bankruptcy, and, because of a 2013 tax fraud conviction, he is legally barred from running for office again until 2019. He’s clearly not getting the message. The billionaire media and sports tycoon and on-again-off-again politician who served three stints as Italy’s prime minister from 1994 to 2011 is preparing to make one more grasp for power. At age 81, Mr. Berlusconi is poised to play yet another role in the country’s fragmented politics: kingmaker.
Despite all the political obituaries written for the man over the years, many here are not surprised.
“Yes, against all odds, we seem to be ready to give Berlusconi one more shot,” said Andrea Moretti, a 44-year-old cook who said he was briefly a Berlusconi supporter when he first entered politics in 1994. “It is at once unbelievable and absolutely predictable.”
The speculation has surged since Mr. Berlusconi’s political party, Forza Italia (Go Italy), dramatically grabbed the top spot in last week’s regional elections in Sicily. The vote was seen as a harbinger for national elections set to take place in the first half of next year.
The Italian political system has rarely seemed stable or predictable, but this is a particularly volatile period. There are three distinct factions: the traditional center-left Democratic Party, the anti-establishment Five-Star Movement, and Mr. Berlusconi and his allies to the right of center — all clawing at one another while trying to prevent their bases from splintering.
In an exquisite irony, the polarizing Mr. Berlusconi may be the most unifying figure on the Italian political scene, analysts say.
“Berlusconi’s main strength at this point may be his ability to keep disparate groups working together,” said Franco Pavoncello, a political scientist and president of Rome’s John Cabot University. “Given the problems most political parties are having, that’s not an insignificant strength.”
A three-party coalition led by Forza Italia took almost 40 percent of the vote in Sicily on Nov. 5, more than 5 percentage points better than the Five-Star Movement and more than 20 points ahead of the Democratic Party, led by former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, a close political ally and friend of former President Barack Obama. Although much of northern Italy is less-friendly electoral territory for Mr. Berlusconi, the results suggest that his coalition has the inside track for national elections expected in February or March and that he could have a decisive say in any coalition government formed after the vote.
“We are the only alternative,” Mr. Berlusconi exulted as the Sicilian results were coming in.