ROME – Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi was mocked and insulted when he arrived in parliament over the weekend to vote for the legislature’s leadership, but the plan he offered to rival Pier Luigi Bersani could present a way to end the country’s crippling political impasse — and it just might complete the 76-year-old media tycoon’s political comeback.
Berlusconi missed two recent court dates because of eye surgery, and he arrived in parliament to cast his vote wearing dark sunglasses as protection. Upon entering, he was jeered at by protesters who shouted insults at the billionaire three-time prime minister. His bodyguards tried to usher him into the building, but he stopped at one point to shout to the crowds, “You should be ashamed at yourselves! You are poor, ignorant fools!”
Berlusconi stepped down as prime minister in disgrace just 16 months ago, but he attempted a comeback in last month’s elections, falling short of winning enough votes to become prime minister a fourth time. Rival Bersani achieved a majority in parliament’s lower house, but he fell short in the Senate due to a strong showing from allies of Berlusconi and those supporting funnyman-turned-activist Beppe Grillo.
Bersani, who has rejected the possibility of forming a coalition with Berlusconi, has made several offers to form an alliance with Grillo, but has been rebuffed each time. He says he will attempt to move forward alone, but it is far from clear that he will be able to cobble together an alliance without the help of Berlusconi or Grillo.
On Monday, Berlusconi offered a compromise: his party would support Bersani’s government in return for allowing Berlusconi to pick the country’s president, which in Italy is a largely ceremonial role akin to the queen in the U.K. Current President Giorgio Napolitano is scheduled to resign May 15.
Early indications are that Bersani will reject the offer, but there is speculation that if he accepts it Berlusconi’s nominee for president might be Berlusconi himself. Though it still appears to be a long shot, such a series of events would complete Berlusconi’s come back while also guaranteeing him some of the same protection from prosecution he would have enjoyed as prime minister.
Those are protections Berlusconi could use: he was sentenced to four years in jail last October for tax evasion in connection with the Mediaset television and cinema giant he controls, and earlier this month, to another year behind bars in connection with a wiretap case. And he remains on trial on charges of abuse of power and paying an underage girl for sex.