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Berlusconi paves way for new party in bid to revive his political fortunes

Berlusconi paves way for new party in bid to revive his political fortunes

Silvio Berlusconi, ousted from power in 2006, is gambling big in his quest for a way back into the political limelight.
True to his style, the flamboyant conservative leader is paving the way for a new political party, has picked a redheaded former beauty queen as his latest ally and has promised to unite squabbling coalition partners under a single center-right party.
While the new Freedom Party is little more than a label for now, its official registration _ by businesswoman and ex-Miss Italy contestant Michela Vittoria Brambilla _ has already shaken up Italy's political scene during an otherwise sleepy summer.
Berlusconi insists he is not launching a new party _ just registering the name and symbol to prevent others from using them.
The move, however, fueled speculation that the conservative leader, 71 years old next month, is finally making good on his longtime dream of creating a single center-right party. It drew immediate criticism from several allies who oppose to the idea of a single party and lamented that they hadn't even been told.
"The idea of a single center-right party is a significant one, but at this stage we are very far from that," Nicola Lupo, a professor in the political science department at Rome's LUISS university, said Wednesday. "However, putting forth the symbol _ even with nothing behind it _ is a skillful move that has taken people aback."
The name and symbol of the Freedom Party _ a blue circle featuring the red, white and green colors of the Italian flag and the name "Partito della Liberta" _ were registered Aug. 6 by Brambilla "on Silvio Berlusconi's mandate and are now at the complete and absolute disposal of Berlusconi," Brambilla said.
Berlusconi, who had a pacemaker implanted last year in the United States, has been looking for ways to revitalize his center-right coalition, which lost the 2006 elections and has been split by infighting.
Berlusconi's existing party, Forza Italia, went from winning 30 percent of the vote in its victorious 2001 campaign to about 24 percent last year.
But just what role the new party would take remains unclear.
Center-right officials have been tightlipped in recent days, possibly in an effort to soothe tensions among allies.
Berlusconi has said only that Forza Italia remains "irreplaceable," adding that the outcry over the registration was "much ado about nothing."
But during his 2001-06 tenure as premier, Berlusconi often said he wanted a real two-party system for Italy, as in the United States, rather than one dominated by an often-heterogeneous coalition of parties. Proponents believe a two-party system would give more stability to Italy's notoriously fragile coalition governments.
As head of government, Berlusconi strove to rein in disobedient allies, and the current center-left premier, Romano Prodi, is having his share of trouble in keeping united a coalition that ranges from Communists to Christian Democrats.
Center-left officials took similar action earlier this year, announcing the merger of the coalition's two-largest parties in a single Democratic Party _ an initiative not yet concluded but already seen as breathing new life into the center-left.
Observers have speculated that the Freedom Party might first replace Forza Italia _ a bold move given that it remains the country's largest single party _ and then gradually draw in other coalition forces.
The Freedom Party grows out of a network of some 5,000 political clubs, called "Freedom Circles," which Brambilla founded in November to rally grassroots support. She says the clubs have attracted not just Forza Italia supporters but also moderates from the rival coalition and voters disillusioned with conventional politics and the current elite.
"Either we change course or the crisis in the relationship between citizens and politics becomes irreversible," Brambilla told La Stampa in a recent interview.
The move has catapulted Brambilla, already known for her looks, in the political spotlight, with some saying she effectively has been crowned by Berlusconi as a future leader.
Like Berlusconi, she comes from the world of private business and has a direct, unconventional approach to politics. Not yet 40, she favors miniskirts and high heels, making her stand out among gray, older Italian politicians. However, she has so far dismissed any speculation of future leadership, saying Berlusconi is the "indisputable leader."
Some analysts have praised the Freedom Party as proof of Berlusconi's ability to reinvent himself, while others have criticized it as a marketing ploy that fails to confront real issues.
"It is all too clear that this is a solution destined to solve nothing," Ernesto Galli della Loggia, a leading political commentator, said in Corriere della Sera.


Updated : 2021-04-16 16:09 GMT+08:00