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Silvio Berlusconi Angles for Italy’s Presidency, Bunga Bunga and All

ROME — Early this month, Silvio Berlusconi sat at a eating room desk in his mansion along with his girlfriend, greater than a half-century youthful, and an outdated political ally. As they feasted on a pumpkin souffle and truffle tagliatelle, the 85-year-old Italian former prime minister and billionaire made hours of cellphone calls, working his manner down a listing of disaffected lawmakers he hoped to steer to elect him president of Italy subsequent week.

“‘We’re forming the Bunga Bunga occasion and we wish you with us,’” Christian Romaniello, a lawmaker previously with the anti-establishment 5 Star Motion, recounted Mr. Berlusconi as saying, referring to the sex-fueled bacchanals that Mr. Berlusconi has deemed merely “elegant dinners.” In line with Mr. Romaniello, Mr. Berlusconi then added, “‘However I’ll convey the women.’”

The Italian presidency, the nation’s head of state, is a seven-year place normally stuffed by a determine of unimpeachable integrity and sobriety whose affect flows from ethical authority. The present holder, Sergio Mattarella, is a quiet statesman whose brother was murdered by the mob. Another contender is Mario Draghi, the prime minister and a titan of European politics who has led the nation to a interval of bizarre stability.

Then there may be Mr. Berlusconi, who regardless of his current dangerous well being, waxen look and weakened political standing, is making an unabashed push to win a career-culminating place that he hopes will wash away a long time of stains — his allies say unjustly thrown mud — and rewrite his legacy.

That might take some scrubbing.

There are the numerous trials; the investigations over mob links and bribing lawmakers; the tax fraud conviction; the ban from workplace; the sentence to carry out community service in a nursing home; his use of his media empire for political gain; his use of the government to guard his media empire; the wiretapped conversations of his libertine occasion visitors regaling the Caligulan extent of his bunga bunga debaucheries; his shut relationship with the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin, who gifted Mr. Berlusconi a large bed; his appraisal of Barack Obama as “young, handsome and sun tanned”; his comparing a German lawmaker to a focus camp guard; his second spouse’s divorcing him for apparently courting an 18-year-old.

It’s an unorthodox résumé.

Mr. Berlusconi’s conflicts of curiosity, judicial issues and previous habits made him lower than a wonderful candidate, stated Emma Bonino, a veteran Italian politician and civil rights activist who as soon as ran for the office herself. “I don’t assume he would give an excellent picture of our nation on the planet,” she stated.

Mr. Berlusconi declined to remark for this text. However he and his group of longtime advisers are promoting him as a reasonable, pro-European champion of democracy and can-do capitalism. “I feel Silvio Berlusconi might be helpful to the nation,” Mr. Berlusconi, talking of himself within the third particular person, stated in October.

In normal trend, he’s utilizing all of the levers at his disposal to achieve the requisite majority of 505 votes within the secret balloting for the presidency amongst lawmakers that begins on Monday.

Il Giornale, a paper Mr. Berlusconi’s household owns, this month reprinted his speech to the U.S. Congress made in the course of the Bush administration (“Worldwide Statesman,” read the headline) and revealed an insert on his qualities (“hero of liberty”). Weeks in the past, lawmakers opening their mailboxes discovered {a photograph} of Mr. Berlusconi, arms up and bathing in adoration, on the quilt of an anthology of his speeches.

However Mr. Berlusconi can be working the telephones and laying on the appeal, upping his Christmas present recreation from ties to gild-framed oil work. He’s pulling out all of the stops to persuade reluctant members of his alliance to stay with him and to steer sufficient stragglers that they will rely on him.

Mr. Berlusconi’s candidacy is unlikely, however it’s no sideshow.

Regardless of the shrinking affect of his occasion, Forza Italia, the great-grandfather has remained the father figure of the center-right, which now has — if united — the most important bloc of lawmaker electors in Parliament and a robust want to decide on the following president.

However Mr. Berlusconi’s insistence has prompted a significant headache for Matteo Salvini, the chief of the nationalist League occasion, each at work and at house. Mr. Salvini’s girlfriend is the daughter of Denis Verdini, one in every of Mr. Berlusconi’s closest advisers, who’s publicly making use of strain — from home arrest after his conviction in a chapter fraud case — to elect Mr. Berlusconi.

After years of promising Mr. Berlusconi that he would again his candidacy for president, Mr. Salvini despatched a stinging message to Mr. Berlusconi this week, saying that, “We should confirm if Berlusconi has the numbers earlier than the beginning of voting subsequent week.” Mr. Salvini indicated that he had anyone else in thoughts.

Giorgia Meloni, the hard-right chief of Brothers of Italy, the third occasion within the center-right alliance, spoke on Tuesday of the potential of Mr. Berlusconi’s stepping apart, prompting hypothesis that he would possibly drop out.

“I haven’t determined,” Mr. Berlusconi stated in an announcement Tuesday night. “I’m an optimist.”

His operating can be dangerous information for the Italian left, led by the Democratic Occasion, which Mr. Berlusconi has pushed loopy for many years as he pioneered and perfected a mode of political polarization and victimization.

They don’t fairly know what to do along with his candidacy. There may be discuss of casting clean ballots or strolling out of the chamber, however that dangers wanting petty, and there may be at all times the hazard that lawmakers wooed by Mr. Berlusconi would possibly elect him.

In any case, the prospect of Mr. Berlusconi’s tangerine visage hanging within the nation’s public school rooms and workplaces has prompted threats of nationwide demonstrations and a name to the outdated liberal battle stations.

“Not Him,” learn the cover of Espresso magazine.

For all Mr. Berlusconi’s seeming unsuitability to fill the position of head of state, his allies argue that Italians elected him a number of occasions, that political concerns motivated the magistrates who hounded him for many years and that he was a self-made and good businessman who constructed an empire.

However his outsize appetites and self-interested use of energy fueled a backlash that seeded and grew the enormous anti-establishment Five Star Movement, co-founded by the comic Beppe Grillo, who as soon as derided Mr. Berlusconi as a “psychotic dwarf.”

5 Star took energy in 2018 as Italy’s main occasion, and Mr. Berlusconi’s assist dwindled. He took a again seat to the rising nationalists, first Mr. Salvini after which Ms. Meloni, and railed in opposition to 5 Star as incompetent good-for-nothings and a menace to democracy. He mocked their trademark common welfare plan as a joke. He referred to as their energy construction communist.

However now Mr. Berlusconi and the good-for-nothings want one another.

Five Star has since imploded and scattered members right into a combined group of lawmakers determined to keep away from new elections that will nearly definitely value them their jobs and pensions. Mr. Berlusconi has explicitly promised to maintain the legislature going as president, has referred to as the common earnings plan good for the poor and showered presents on former rivals.

Luigi Di Maio, the 5 Star chief who as soon as refused to hitch any authorities with Mr. Berlusconi, this Christmas accepted a centuries-old oil portray of Venice from the mogul’s assortment, in line with an individual near Mr. Di Maio, who declined to remark.

As Mr. Berlusconi labored the telephones alongside his girlfriend, who can be a member of Parliament in his political occasion, he sat subsequent to Vittorio Sgarbi, one in every of his former ministers and a lawmaker and tv persona who’s effectively preferred by many 5 Star members.

When Mr. Sgarbi referred to as Mr. Romaniello, the previous 5 Star lawmaker, who was interrupted whereas making Carnevale masks along with his two young children, he jokingly launched Mr. Berlusconi as “a Grillo-following good friend.”

In an interview, Mr. Romaniello stated that he was flattered by the decision and added that pals contacted by Mr. Berlusconi additionally revered the previous prime minister’s cellphone banking and “constructive charisma.” However Mr. Romaniello stated that he nonetheless thought-about himself, politically, “an adversary,” including that 5 Star had been born “because the antithesis of Berlusconi.” A cellphone name, he stated, wouldn’t win his vote.

By Tuesday, even Mr. Sgarbi had bailed on Mr. Berlusconi and was urging him to be a kingmaker.

“I don’t assume he can do it,” he stated in an interview, saying that the duo had solely persuaded about 15 lawmakers to again him, far quick, even when he had a base of about 450 conservative supporters, to win the election. “It’s ineffective to strive should you don’t have the numbers.”

On Wednesday, as Mr. Berlusconi’s attorneys in Milan efficiently argued for a delay in a bribery trial associated to his bunga bunga tribulations till after the presidential vote, his group snapped again and vowed that he would persist and, as at all times, communicate for himself.

“I can’t disappoint those that have trusted me,” Mr. Berlusconi stated.

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