This article originally appeared in
February 4, 2008
Elections may return Berlusconi to

Favored for premier in snap vote


ROME-- Silvio Berlusconi's plans to return to power went from "long shot" to
"likely" late Monday, after plans to solve Italy's protracted political crisis by
forming a temporary caretaker government were abandoned and snap
elections appeared all but inevitable.

    Pollsters said that the favorite to
    win any election held in the near
    term in Italy would probably be
    Berlusconi, the controversial
    billionaire media magnate.

    The polling firm Opinioni said
    Monday that Berlusconi's
    approval levels continued to
    hover around 50% -- not
particularly high, but downright lofty compared to 13% for Romano Prodi,
who resigned as prime minister last month, and about 35% for Rome Mayor
Walter Veltroni, Berlusconi's most likely opponent if elections are called.

"These things can change very fast but people know what they're getting with
Berlusconi, and the evidently feel comfortable with the notion of him in
charge," Maria Rossi, Opinioni's co-director, said in an interview. "Under the
current circumstances, Berlusconi has to be a strong favorite."

If he wins, it will be the fourth time Berlusconi drapes himself with the prime
minister's sash. His media empire includes broadcast giant Mediaset and
film producer and distributor Medusa.

The media reported that President Giorgio Napolitano will call for new
elections on Tuesday. Speculation is that they will take place in mid-April.

The long lag before the elections could be bad news for Berlusconi,
because it would give time for the Italian electorate to get to know Veltroni,
who is popular in his native Rome but far less known than Berlusconi
elsewhere in the country.

But Berlusconi's control of media outlets -- Mediaset owns three of Italy's
seven national networks, plus a major news magazine and one of the
country's most important daily newspapers -- will give him power to shape
public opinion over the coming weeks.

Prodi, a former European Commission president, narrowly defeated
Berlusconi in 2006. But Berlusconi, a Milan native, did not fade away after
that defeat. He became a thorn in Prodi's side, limiting his power to govern
until his government finally crumbled Jan. 24.

Napolitano tried to appoint a temporary caretaker government to push
through a series of electoral reforms to help stabilize the beleaguered Italian
political system that produced 61 governments in 62 years. But Berlusconi,
sensing a chance to return to power, dug his heels in and demanded
immediate elections.

Monday night, Franco Marini, the man Napolitano appointed to form a
temporary government, gave up on the job, forcing the new elections.

The abandoned electoral reform plan means that whoever wins the next vote
will inherit a set of electoral rules passed by Berlusconi in 2005, when he
was prime minister. Those rules give great power to small parties in a ruling
coalition, an aspect that eventually resulted in Prodi's downfall.

It is not clear if Berlusconi would have better luck than Prodi in keeping
minor members of his coalition in line. But pundits recall that Berlusconi's
first government, in 1994, fell because of the defection of a junior member of
his coalition.
Source Page
(c) 2008 The Hollywood Reporter
All rights reserved.
Volume 77; Number 9
Volume 77; Number 9
Silvio Berlusconi (Reuters photo)