(ROME) — After his party failed to capture the majority of votes he had expected in Italy’s elections, octogenarian former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi had stepped back from the public spotlight.
Reports have said he is recovering from the election campaign season at home in his villa outside Milan, surrounded by his family and closest aides. Some political reporters speculated that he was taking the election results badly.
His first public address since Italy’s elections on March 4 was delivered through a taped video message, delivered from his home.
Dressed in a shiny double-breasted suit, but looking somber, Berlusconi said he was happy for the leader of the Eurosceptic League party that won a majority in the coalition, but that he was still the undisputed “director” of the center right and the “guarantor of the cohesion of the coalition,” despite the fact that his party won fewer votes than the League.
“Together [the two political parties Forza Italia and League], contributed to building the the center right coalition and to its victory.”
In the run-up to the election, Berlusconi had been billed as the Italian kingmaker poised to orchestrate post-election maneuvering for the center-right coalition he molded.
Although personally banned from holding political office until 2019 due to a tax fraud conviction, Berlusconi had burst back onto the political scene ahead of these elections, insisting he was once again coming to Italy’s rescue — this time to stop the new populist, anti-establishment Five-Star Movement from winning.
In his video message Tuesday, Berlusconi said the election result of his Forza Italia party “would have been very different if they would not have impeded me running as a full candidate.”
Attacking the Five-Star Movement, which did win, he went on to say “unfortunately many voters believed in unfounded promises … they will soon notice that they were misled.”
Results are still being analyzed, but clearly his political persuasion has waned.
Italians voted overwhelmingly for the new upstart party, handing it over 32 percent of the vote, which gives the party triple the representatives in parliament and real clout to form a new government.
Berlusconi’s coalition won too, with 37 percent of the vote, beating the ruling centre-left by more than 10 points.
But, it appears that the win was mostly thanks to the coalition party ally, the anti-migrant, Eurosceptic League party. It received nearly 18 percent of the vote, beating Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party by almost four points.
Voters apparently found the 44-year-old League leader Matteo Salvini’s aggressive political message more appealing than Berlusconi’s more moderate approach, this time.
Salvini has said he will honor the coalition’s pre-election pact and stick with his party allies, but his win now makes him the coalition leader, not Berlusconi.
Tuesday Salvini said he was “not budging” as the centre right’s premier candidate in any future government, having scored higher than Silvio Berlusconi in Sunday’s vote.
The possible rift between the two party leaders could allow the parties to break away and negotiate power separately.
The last video taken of Berlusconi was from election day, when he was rushed away after a topless female activist gate-crashed the polling station where he was voting. The young woman was shouting at him and had “Berlusconi: You are past your sell-by date” scrawled in Italian across her bare chest.
With no party or coalition winning an outright majority, Italians face weeks of political haggling and posturing as the politicians try to come up with a viable government. Only then will the role of Berlusconi, known for his skill in behind-the-scene negotiations, in Italy’s future be apparent.
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