Silvio Berlusconi has dropped heavy hints once again that he intends to fight the country’s next elections.
The three-times prime minister accused his successor, Mario Monti, of plunging the country into a spiral of recession and said that he was “besieged by requests” to contest the elections in March.
“The situation today is much worse than it was a year ago when I left the government out of a sense of responsibility and a love for my country,” the billionaire businessman said in a statement which he issued after a long meeting with supporters from his People of Freedom party in Rome.
“I cannot let my country fall into a recessive spiral without end. It’s not possible to go on like this,” he said.
“Today Italy is on the edge of an abyss: the economy is exhausted, a million more are unemployed, purchasing power has collapsed, tax pressure is rising to intolerable levels,” he said.
Mr Berlusconi, 76, claimed that he had been “besieged by requests from (his) party to announce at the soonest my re-entry into politics to guide the PDL.”
He ignored the fact that since taking the helm just over a year ago, Mr Monti has calmed financial markets, restored confidence in Italy’s abilities to reform its economy and reduced the spread between Italy and German benchmark bonds to nearly half the level it was when he took over.
Since resigning in November last year, Mr Berlusconi has constantly flip-flopped over his political future, changing his mind frequently about whether to lead his party into the elections in the spring.
But this time his criticism of the technical administration of Mr Monti, and its supposed mismanagement of the economy, was made in particularly forthright terms.
Should he decide to fight the elections, his chances of becoming prime minister for a fourth time in 20 years look slim, however.
Opinion polls show support for his PDL party at around 15 per cent, compared with nearly 35 per cent for the main opposition, the Democratic Party, led by Pierluigi Bersani, a cigar-smoking former Communist.
Mr Bersani said this week that he “cannot wait” to take on Mr Berlusconi should he choose to fight the election.
Mr Berlusconi’s announcement was met with weary resignation by many Italians, who have become accustomed in the last few months to seeing the former premier declare his intention to contest the election, only to back down a few days later.
“All this will only give the impression to the rest of the world, to our partners, that we are going backwards, and that is not good for Italy. We need to show that the country is moving forward,” said Corrado Passera, the economic development minister in the Monti administration.
“Berlusconi represents the past, it’s not worth talking about him anymore,” said Carlo De Benedetti, a long-time business rival.
But senior members of Mr Berlusconi’s party claimed Italy was much worse off under the Monti government and needed saving by “Il Cavaliere”, as the former premier is known.
Mr Berlusconi had made “a grand gesture of responsibility” when he resigned in November 2011 amid sex scandals and fears of a Greek-style economic crisis, but it was now time for him to return, said Sandro Bondi, one of his former ministers.
“The Monti government has done nothing but impoverish Italy,” Mr Bondi said.
The sex scandals which in part precipitated Mr Berlusconi’s fall are still being played out.
On Monday a court in Milan is expected to hear testimony from “Ruby the Heart Stealer”, the erotic dancer whom Mr Berlusconi is accused of paying for sex during his “bunga bunga” parties when she was an alleged under age prostitute. He denies the charges.
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