Berlusconi announced Monday that his center-right People of Liberty party, or PDL, is teaming up with the Northern League, a Milan-based party led by Roberto Maroni that takes a tough stance on immigration and seeks greater autonomy for northern Italy.
The two politicians have joined forces before. PDL and the League once cooperated in a coalition that ran the national government until 2011, when Berlusconi stepped down amid an economic meltdown, sex scandals and accusations of corruption.
The mild-mannered technocrat Mario Monti assumed the prime ministerial post in November 2011. Maroni, who had served as Berlusconi’s minister of the Interior, kept a low profile until becoming the Northern League party leader last July.
Now, it is Monti’s turn to step down. He officially relinquished his post in December, though he is presiding over a caretaker government and will run his own coalition in the February election. His resignation was precipitated by the PDL’s sudden decision to pull its support for him in early December.
All eyes are on the approaching showdown between the austere Monti and the flamboyant Berlusconi -- but in truth, neither is well-liked by the public. Berlusconi’s reputation has been soured by convictions for corruption and fraud. Monti, on the other hand, is credited with improving Italy’s fiscal stability on the global stage, but his policies haven’t made a measurable difference for the average Italian citizen.
A plurality of the Italian public is likely to award its confidence to a coalition led by Pier Luigi Bersani’s center-left Democratic Party (PD in Italian). Various December polls projected that the PD could win between 30 and 39 percent of the vote. The PDL seemed on track to win anywhere from 16 to 20 percent, while the centrist bloc led by Monti was pegged for third place with a likely 10 to 15 percent.
The new alliance between PDL and the Northern League will be a boon to both. Survey results published this weekend by the Milan newspaper Corriere della Sera found that together, the parties of Berlusconi and Maroni could garner 26 to 28 percent.
That’s not enough to win, but it is enough to significantly threaten the PD’s control over the upper house of parliament. The alliance could thereby muddle election results so that no clear winner emerges, which would be bad news for an ailing stock market that craves stability and seems to double over at every mention of Berlusconi’s name.
On the other hand, Berlusconi’s strength could force an alliance between Monti and the PD, which would please foreign investors and EU austerity advocates by keeping technocrats in the picture.
No matter which way the biscotti crumbles, one thing is clear: Berlusconi, widely reviled and astoundingly brazen as he ever was, is back. Campaigning for office for the sixth time. Still smiling after nearly running the Italian economy into the ground, weathering convictions of tax fraud, being accused of sex with a minor, and retiring with a promise never to return. Il Cavaliere can’t win elections anymore -- but that won’t stop him from stealing the political spotlight in any way he can.
“You Italians need me,” he asserted recently, according to NPR. “I do not hold back when I feel the duty to help those in need.”