Bunga, bunga: Sil­vio Berlusconi re­turns to Ital­ian pol­i­tics

The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitic­s - BY ERIC J. LY­MAN AND JABEEN BHATTI

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.

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