Olivier Hoslet / EPA, file
Support for Silvio Berlusconi's party, which has lost scores of voters from the beginning of the crisis, would triple if he ran, according to recent survey.
ROME, Italy -- It could be back to the future for Silvio Berlusconi -- and Italy as well.
Speculation was rife Thursday that the 75-year-old former Italian prime minister -- who resigned from office under intense pressure last November after it became clear he could not tackle the economic crisis that brought the country to the verge of defaulting -- was mulling a comeback.
It would be quite an about-face for the billionaire media mogul -- known for his oversized ego, hunger for power and lavish lifestyle -- who said earlier this year that he would not run in the next national elections in 2013.
Still, Berlusconi is a survivor. He did not step down despite having been a defendant in dozens of trials for corruption and abuse of office. He was defiant in the face of international embarrassment after details of his private parties, complete with showgirls dancing on poles in skimpy clothes or dressed up as nuns, leaked out. He did not falter even when he was accused of having paid an under-aged girl for sex.
Silvio Berlusconi resigned as Italy's prime minister in the midst of an economic crisis, and some Italians toasted the end of the billionaire's political career. NBC's Richard Engel reports.
So could he finally give up his political ambitions for good because he was accused of having brought his country to the edge of economic disaster?
The biggest Italian daily, Corriere della Sera, says the former prime minister has decided to try to become prime minister for the fourth time in 20 years after polls revealed that his popularity was still strong among right-wing voters.
According to a survey, published by Euromedia Research, votes for his party would triple if he ran as its candidate. The poll showed that the party would claim only 8 to 12 percent of the overall vote if Berlusconi stayed out of politics, but the proportion would shoot to 28 percent if he returned as a leader.
But just a few months ago, it seemed that the vast majority of Italian voters had grown tired of the former prime minister’s political pantomime made-up of jokes, girls and promises. Indeed, on the Nov. 12, the day Berlusconi went to the president’s palace to offer his resignation, he was greeted by an angry crowd shouting insults and chanting "Hallelujah!"
Berlusconi soon disappeared in the political background, mostly agreeing with anything Mario Monti, the technocratic prime minister who replaced him, did to fix the country’s ailing economy.
Retains party support
Another thing that Berlusconi has working in his favor is the support of his closest ally, Angelino Alfano, the new party secretary. Alfano, who was presented at a party conference as Berlusconi's political heir, received news of a possible comeback enthusiastically even though such a development would mean he would lose the chance to run as prime minister.
"Many are asking him to run," Alfano told the daily La Repubblica. "If he does, I will stand by his side and will support him all the way."
But to the opposition, Berlusconi's "I'll be back" sounds scarier than Arnold Schwarzenegger threatening to come return for more mayhem in "Terminator."
Many analysts blame Berlusconi for precipitating the economic crisis by delaying much needed but unpopular reforms in the job and pensions sectors, and fear that his return will send investor’s confidence in Italy's economy back to rock bottom.
Whether Italian voters think the same, only the outcome of the 2013 election will say.
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