Former Prime Minister of Italy Silvio Berlusconi, currently on trial for allegedly paying an underage prostitute for sex, has squelched rumors that he would seek to restart his political career by declaring that will not represent his party in next year’s election.
"I will not stand for [the premiership] again, but I remain at the side of younger people who can play and score goals," said the 76-year-old billionaire in a statement, referring to soccer (he owns the AC Milan club).
"I still have good muscles and some good sense, but my role will be to give advice."
Berlusconi, who resigned last November amid a worsening economic crisis in Italy, had served as the country’s prime minister for three terms since 1994.
Reportedly, the leadership of his center-right Popolo della Libertà (People of Freedom), or PDL party, is likely to be won by Angelino Alfano, currently party secretary who is only 42 years old.
Alfano, a former justice minister, would presumably stand under the PDL banner in national elections that must be held by next May.
Reuters reported, however, that Alfano may not be the clear choice to take over the PDL -- Daniela Santanche, a former member of Berlusconi’s cabinet, has said she intends to run in a primary ballot (expected to be held in December) for party leadership. Santanche, 51, a Berlusconi loyalist who has supported her former boss during his various scandals, represents the right-wing of the party, while Alfano is viewed more as a moderate.
The Gazzetta Del Sud newspaper reported that Santanche has alienated some within the party over demands that some senior PDL officials be removed in the wake of corruption scandals that engulfed members in the Rome and Milan areas.
The Gazzetta also reported that Giancarlo Galan, the former governor of Veneto and minister in Berlusconi’s administrations, may also throw his hat into the ring. However, Galan is 56 years old, a fact that contradicts Berlusconi’s stated advocacy of a “youth movement” in the party.
Consequently, a dark horse candidate like 35-year-old former Youth Policies Minister Giorgia Meloni may be a more attractive option.
At any rate, Berlusconi’s departure might enable the PDL to form (or restore) alliances with other parties who looked upon the ex-PM quite unfavorably, including the Northern League, a former coalition partner in the prior government.
PDL will need as much help as it can get -- a recent poll by the SWG Institute indicated that only 14.3 percent of the public would vote for the party, well behind the 25.9 percent support for the center-left Democratic Party. PDL is even less popular than the 5-Star Movement party of comedian Beppe Grillo (who is at 21 percent).
However, not everyone is convinced that Berlusconi will actually disappear from the political limelight.
Former Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi is highly skeptical.
"Wait before writing the headlines because you never know," he said.
Umberto Bossi, former head of the Northern League and onetime ally of Berlusconi, flatly declared he doesn’t believe Berlusconi will step down.