Why, despite convictions for fraud and “bunga-bunga” parties, it is the great hope of the Italian right


Days before the Christmas break in the Italian parliament, right-wing extremist leader Matteo Salvini stepped up his efforts to push back the political tide in his favor.

His mission is to elect Silvio Berlusconi – the three-time former Prime Minister notorious for his trials and “bunga-bunga” sex parties – as Italian president early next year.

For members of the right in Italy, the election of the 85-year-old could break the left’s stranglehold over the presidential position.

For Berlusconi it would be the ultimate trophy in an outstanding career in which he has already become a billionaire and Italy’s longest-serving Prime Minister.

With this in mind, Salvini tries to convince Mario Draghi, the current prime minister and favorite of the president, not to run for the role.

“Draghi should remain prime minister,” Salvini told journalists last Friday during a break in his ongoing trial for allegedly preventing a migrant boat from docking in 2019.

Silvio Berlusconi speaks to the media on Thursday after meeting center-right leaders in Rome (Photo: Roberto Monaldo / LaPresse via AP)

“I’m forcing myself to form a coalition with the Democratic Party and he’s about to leave?”

Draghi, the former president of the European Central Bank (ECB), who was appointed to form a technical government earlier this year, leads a coalition that includes both the Eurosceptic League and Berlusconi’s Forza Italia.

Both parties risk nearly $ 200 billion from overwhelming and widespread support for Draghi’s reformist plans.

Nevertheless, Italy’s right-wing bloc – which includes the League and Forza Italia as well as Giorgia Melonis Brothers of Italy – commands parliament with 450 votes.

Its members see the January presidential election as a rare opportunity to choose a person who could strengthen their hand.

“For the first time we could have a center-right president who represents the majority of Italians,” said Federico Mollicone, a senior MP for the Brothers of Italy.

More to Silvio Berlusconi

Berlusconi’s colorful record would make him an unconventional candidate.

Convicted of tax fraud in 2012, he is now on trial on criminal charges related to his “bunga-bunga” parties – which he denies.

He’s also rarely appeared in public since his open heart surgery in 2016.

Many claim that his poor health makes him unsuitable for the seven-year presidency.

Supporters underestimated such concerns. For Mollicone, Berlusconi is a “patriot” who, as Prime Minister, stubbornly defended “the interests of the nation” against harmful EU reforms.

“Berlusconi has shaped political history” [by] Bringing Bush and Putin to the same table, ”says Licia Ronzulli, Senator from Forza Italia.

Italian presidents have a largely ceremonial function, but intervene in times of political crisis. They are elected by around 1,000 national and regional politicians in a secret ballot.

At a “summit” with Salvini and Meloni, which was to take place yesterday in his splendid Villa Grande house in Rome, the leader of Forza Italia wanted to consolidate his position as the favorite of the right.

“The choice is absolutely in the hands of the right, because the left has no ideal candidate,” says Lorenzo Castellani, Professor of Political Science at the LUISS University in Rome.

However, the bloc lacks the 505 votes it needs, so it has to rely on outside support to make its plans come true.

There has been speculation in Italian newspapers whether Draghi will run for the role.

“If Draghi expresses his interest, many will find it difficult to turn him down,” says Castellani.

Draghi, who is unlikely to run in the general election, slated for just over a year, may be reluctant to leave the government at a critical point in its spending plans. Still, he might be tempted to steer the government for seven years as president.

“I really think he wants the role,” says Castellani of Draghi.

A slew of other candidates – including Justice Minister Marta Cartabia, who would become Italy’s first female president – could surface in backroom deals, suggests Alessio Vernetti, an analyst at YouTrend.

“This is unpredictable Italian politics,” concludes Vernetti. “Anything could happen.”

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