ITALY — Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has announced that he will run for the premiership again, after he was forced out of office a year ago.
The disgraced politician and media mogul has been shoring up support in the right-wing “People of Freedom Party” (PDL) and has initiated talks with former coalition allies, the Northern League.
“I am running to win,” Berlusconi, 76, told journalists in a press conference at the practice field for “AC Milan” — the soccer club he owns — near Milan, on Saturday.
“When I did sport, when I worked and studied, I never entered into a competition to be well-placed but always to win.”
This will be Berlusconi’s sixth bid to become head of government. He has been prime minister three times during his controversial two-decade career.
Forced from office in November 2011 after a slew of scandals damaged his already corroded reputation, one consequence of Berlusconi’s continued dominance of Italy’s foreign headlines was the near bankruptcy of the country.
Despite currently appealing a four-year jail sentence for tax fraud and an upcoming trial on charges of paying for sex with an underage nightclub dancer-prostitute, the elderly politician told journalists he has been “besieged by requests” to run.
While victory at the ballot box may seem unlikely for Berlusconi right now, a strong fight from the PDL and any cross-party support it can garner could keep Pier Luigi Bersani’s center-left Democratic Party from securing a clear majority in both houses of parliament.
Even while out of office, Berlusconi has repeatedly criticized current prime minister Mario Monti’s stewardship of the Italian economy, recently saying: “I cannot let my country fall into a recessive spiral without end. It’s not possible to go on like this.”
A somewhat ironic statement since Berlusconi resigned amid plummeting market confidence last year. While stories of his high living and ‘bunga bunga’ parties may still be fresh in voters’ minds, an unrepentant Berlusconi told reporters:
“I race to win.”
A general election is expected to be held in March or April but no date has not yet been set.
After taking over as prime minister last year Monti introduced a policy of sharp tax rises and austerity measures to get the runaway economy under control. On Thursday, PDL members of parliament abstained from confidence votes in the government in protest over those policies.
On Saturday, at an economic conference in Cannes, France, Monti told reporters:
“I am convinced that whatever government succeeds me, the wisdom of the men and women in Italian politics will prevail. I am sure there will not be an attempt to destroy what we have been able to do to secure Italy’s public finances.”
Later, that same Saturday, Monti reportedly told the country’s president — Giorgio Napolitano — that he intends to resign in the wake of the loss of support of the PDL in parliament.
President Napolitano’s office announced Monti’s decision after the pair met for nearly two hours on Saturday night at the presidential palace in Rome, just hours after Berlusconi’s announcement.