Four-time prime minister and octogenarian Silvio Berlusconi, announced his comeback — once again — to Italian politics Thursday.
Speaking at a rally in Sardinia, he said his aim “at the beautiful age that I have” was to run in the upcoming European elections in May to stop the present upsurge of populist governments winning seats in Europe.
He will run as a candidate for his center-right Forza Italia party, which, since its heyday in the 90s, has lost massive amounts of votes in the polls.
He accused Europe of lacking “deep thinking about the world. … With my knowledge, my experience and my ability to convince people, I can play an important role and make European citizens understand that we risk moving away from Western values.”
He took a similar line to when he entered politics in 1994, saying he was doing it to stop “the communists.” This time, he said he’s entering politics to stop the present Italian government from gaining more votes in the European Parliament — mainly in an attempt to slow down the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, a political party that he has repeatedly called “dangerous,” “inexperienced” and “incompetent.”
The Five Star Movement, however, shares government power with the right-wing, anti-migrant and Eurosceptic Northern League Party, which used to partner with Berlusconi in the government. He was careful not to upset the League as he still hopes to win his former allies — and voters — back to the center-right fold and benefit from the League’s rising popularity. The League continues to rise and lead in the polls, outstripping Five Star with more than an estimated 30 percent of the votes.
“The united #RightCenter is a winner: with its values and its ideals, it is the future of Italy, Europe and the world,” Berlusconi wrote on Twitter on Friday.
In a letter to the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera on Friday, Berlusconi expressed his desire to return to Catholic and liberal politics harking back to the Italian political scene after World War II.
The leader of the League party — Matteo Salvini — is focusing on the EU elections as a way to strengthen his power within the government and further transform his one-time northern separatist party into a fully fledged national right-wing party with strong ties across Europe and beyond.
Berlusconi and his center-right Forza Italia party dominated Italian politics for close to two decades starting in 1994 when he moved into politics after a highly successful career owning media and real estate.
Since stepping down as prime minister in 2011 and multiple court cases — including a conviction of tax fraud in 2013, which expelled him from parliament and banned him from public office — he has continued to work behind the scenes in Italian politics. His ban was overturned by an Italian court last year and he quickly moved back into the political scene.
Reaction to the news that Berlusconi was running in the European elections were mixed, with some TV commentators on Thursday complimenting him on his “courage” and others dismissing it as delusional move. However, political analysts believe that his running in EU elections could still mean a 5 percent increase of votes for his waning Forza Italia party, which could give the wily politician a political bartering tool going forward.
A pollster, Nicolo Piepoli, quoted in Corriere della Sera on Thursday said “his return to politics helps maintain [his party’s] votes not win but you must not forget that there are still a million citizens who would risk their lives for him today.”