Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, convicted of fraud in October and standing trial on charges of engaging a minor in prostitution, said he is being pressed to run for premier to save the country from recession.
“I am assailed by requests from my people to announce as quickly as possible my descent, once again, onto the field” to lead his People of Liberty party in next year’s general election, Berlusconi said in an e-mailed statement yesterday. “I can’t allow my country to precipitate in a recessive spiral without end. We can’t go on like this.”
The billionaire media magnate’s popularity has been bruised by his legal troubles and corruption scandals at People of Liberty, or PDL. The party sank to 14 percent backing in an SWG Institute poll last month, down from 25 percent in April. That compares with 30 percent support for PDL’s traditional rival, Italy’s Democratic Party.
Berlusconi is seeking to reverse his slide in the polls by disowning PDL’s parliamentary support for the austerity agenda of his successor in government, Prime Minister Mario Monti. The 76-year-old Berlusconi, Italy’s most successful politician of the last two decades, was pressured to resign the premiership last year as Italy’s borrowing costs surged.
“The economy is at its limit, a million more unemployed, debt is rising, buying power has collapsed and fiscal pressure is at unbearable levels,” Berlusconi said. “Companies are closing, building has collapsed, the car market is destroyed.”
Berlusconi said he will make a decision about his potential candidacy in the next few days. A decision to run would end his political retirement after little more than a month. On Oct. 24, Berlusconi said he was taking a step back from politics and wouldn’t run for premier.
“Anything that will make the rest of the world and our partners think that that we would be turning back is not good for Italy,” Development Minister Corrado Passera said in an interview on state-controlled Rai 3 television today. “We need to show that the country is moving forward.”
Italy’s benchmark FTSE MIB stock index declined 0.5 percent to 15,866.1 at 9:20 a.m., the only major index in Europe to slide today. The yield on the country’s 10-year bond fell 2 basis points to 4.429 percent.
Berlusconi remains free from prison after the fraud conviction, which carried a sentence of four years, as his lawyers prepare an appeal. His trial on the prostitution charge and abuse of power allegations is tied to Karima El Mahroug, a Moroccan nightclub dancer, who says she was 17 when she attended parties at Berlusconi’s mansion near Milan. Berlusconi denied the charges, testified he thought El Mahroug was 24 and said they didn’t have sex.
PDL, with Berlusconi’s blessing, has been the biggest parliamentary supporter of Monti’s tax increases and public spending cuts. The budget rigor, along with Monti’s diplomacy with European Union allies, helped tame the sovereign debt crisis and ease Italy’s borrowing costs. Still, the austerity deepened the country’s recession.
Italians will go the polls by May in a general election that will determine Monti’s successor. The Democratic Party, or PD, will be led by Pier Luigi Bersani, who won a primary against Florence Mayor Matteo Renzi this month. Beppe Grillo’s 5 Star Movement, Italy’s second-most popular party according to the SWG poll, is preparing its list of candidates.
Berlusconi is pushing for an earlier election date to coincide with voting due in the country’s two biggest regions -- Lombardy and Lazio, home to Milan and Rome respectively. Monti’s Cabinet meets today and may set the dates for those regional votes as soon as February.
President Giorgio Napolitano, who has the power to set the general election day, has said he would be willing to combine the voting if lawmakers first passed an overhaul of the country’s voting law, which currently makes it difficult for a party to achieve a stable majority in Parliament. So far negotiations on the changes, under way for the better part of a year, have failed to produce an agreement.