The letter that began arriving in Italian mailboxes this week starts with “Dear [first name of head of household]” and ends “with very best wishes, Silvio Berlusconi.”
The letter promises that the three-time Italian prime minister will not only eliminate an unpopular municipal property tax but also refund past payments directly to voters' bank accounts or by checks issued through local post offices -- if he's voted back into office. The cost to the Italian treasury for such a measure would be in the billions of euros.
Berlusconi’s Hail Mary pass comes just days before the Feb. 24-25 general election. The bellicose 76-year-old media tycoon is trailing in the polls against his rival, Pier Luigi Bersani, 61, of the center-left Democratic Party. Calling Berlusconi a “trickster,” the former economic minister said the move “is a form of campaigning I cannot stomach,” according to the Guardian.
Berlusconi resigned as prime minister in November 2011 amid both personal scandals and the sovereign debt crisis that forced the government to implement unpopular economic austerity measures. President Giorgio Napolitano replaced him with economist Mario Monti.
The resignation was perceived at the time as a cap to 17 years of public life, but even as he walked away from $2.6 trillion in national debt amid crowds cheering for his exit, Berlusconi seemed unwilling to step out of the public spotlight. He was seen rubbing elbows with European leaders at the People’s Party Summit in Brussels in March 2012.
Berlusconi is banking on a political alliance with the right-wing Northern League, and he hopes his legacy of mishandling the country’s finances and his “bunga bunga” reputation will be forgiven or forgotten by voters come Sunday.
But even in the face of an uphill challenge to regain his stature in Italian politics, Berlusconi seems unafraid to invite controversy with his frank remarks. Last month he raised hackles by praising fascist Italian dictator Benito Mussolini during an event in Milan honoring the victims of the Holocaust.