Silvio Berlusconi, the 81-year-old three-time former prime minister of Italy, is poised to come into power in Italian politics again. Nello Musumeci, the candidate representing Mr. Berlusconi’s coalition of parties, won the most votes in Sicilian regional elections on November 5, 2017. Many view Sicily’s electoral outcome as a foreshadow of the results of the general Italian elections to come in early 2018.
A new law in Italy benefits parties that form coalitions prior to the election, which Berlusconi has fully embraced. His candidate, Mr. Musumeci, won 39 percent of the vote in Sicily according to the New York Times. Mr. Berlusconi’s primary opposition is the Five Star Movement (M5S), a populist party led by comedian Beppe Grillo. While the Five Star Movement, represented by Giancarlo Cancelleri, won 35 percent of the vote and received the most votes for any single party, it fell short of Mr. Berlusconi’s coalition. The M5S did not form pre-election alliances as the party styles itself as an independent and anti-establishment organization.
In contrast to Berlusconi’s success, the left-center Democratic Party (PD), led by former prime minister Matteo Renzi and current Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni is failing. Receiving a meager 19% of votes, the PD lost control of the regional assembly. Although the PD still has time to regroup, the election served as a rejection of both the current government and left-center politics.
According to BBC, following the results of the Sicilian elections Mr. Berlusconi declared a victory for moderate politics as opposed to the populism of the M5S. However this declaration ignores the fact that his coalition included the anti-immigrant Northern League and the far-right Brothers of Italy. On the European level, these nationalist political factions have formed alliances with France’s National Front and Austria’s Freedom Party.
The irony of Mr. Berlusconi’s reappearance on the Italian political stage is that he is barred from holding public office due to a 2013 conviction for tax fraud. Despite this limitation, Mr. Berlusconi has made it very clear that it is he who wields the real power behind the new coalition.
After former prime minister Matteo Renzi squandered his opportunity to revitalize Italian politics, the path is clear for new political leaders. The Democratic Party, although remaining in power, is highly divided. According to Reuters, the PD is currently expected to enter Matteo Renzi as its candidate to lead the country, despite the fact that Mr. Renzi faces harsh criticism from many on the left who believe that he adopts right-wing policies under the guise of reform. Additionally, Mr. Renzi is still plagued by his unsuccessful 2016 constitutional referendum.
Such political turmoil gives Mr. Berlusconi the opportunity he needs to return to politics. For now, he plays kingmaker in Italian politics, but if he is successful in his appeal to overturn his ban from politics, Mr. Berlusconi could very well hold office again in the future. Even with his old age and history of scandals, Mr. Berlusconi remains a formidable political force, with a developed political acumen, extensive resources, generous media coverage, and a large base. Spending his political hiatus laying low in the hope of a return, Berlusconi has perhaps chosen just the right moment to reemerge on the political scene.