Silvio Berlusconi has been given backing by Italy’s centre-right political parties to become the country’s next president, but with his chequered past and in a country in need of strong leadership, the endorsement is being seen as a ‘mockery’ by critics.
The head of state position is a largely ceremonial post that is usually held by a unifying figure, one removed from the general political fray and set apart. This leaves the former premier as an unlikely choice for the role.
The background of Silvio Berlusconi is marked with some unsavoury drama, such as convictions for tax fraud and his infamous ‘Bunga Bunga’ sex parties. Now he faces an uphill battle to gain enough backing.
The 85-year-old billionaire media tycoon, who served four terms as premier, became the formal candidate of Italy’s centre-right alliance after a meeting at his Rome villa on Friday evening, reports Sky News.
“The leaders of the coalition have agreed that Silvio Berlusconi is the right person to hold this high office at these difficult times,” a joint statement said. The meeting included Matteo Salvini’s League party; the far-right Brothers of Italy, led by Giorgia Meloni; and Mr Berlusconi’s own Forza Italia.
The group sits to the centre-right of Italy’s parliament but have said they will lobby for cross-party support for the nomination of Silvio Berlusconi. Many parties are already dead set against the former premier. Italy’s centre-left Democratic Party has categorically ruled out backing Mr Berlusconi for the role. It said it was “disappointed and worried” by the decision of centre-right parties.
The anti-system 5-Star Movement, which has the largest number of MPs, has said it could never support Mr Berlusconi.
“The centre-right should not block Italy. Out here there is a country that is suffering and demanding answers. Let’s not play games at the expense of families and businesses,” said Giuseppe Conte, the former prime minister and 5-Star leader.
Current Premier Mario Draghi, a widely respected former head of the European Central Bank, is another possible candidate for the role. Other, less divisive figures than Mr Berlusconi, such as former Speaker of the lower house Pier Ferdinando Casini, have been touted. Voting in Parliament begins on 24 January. It is a secret ballot of some 1,000 members of parliament and regional representatives.