Berlusconi 'poised for comeback' to help Renzi

A pact with the PM would pull Mr Berlusconi, who had heart surgery in June, out of the political wilderness.
A pact with the PM would pull Mr Berlusconi, who had heart surgery in June, out of the political wilderness.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

ROME • Mr Silvio Berlusconi may try to stage yet another comeback to prop up a weakened Matteo Renzi if the Italian prime minister loses a referendum on constitutional reform next month, according to a senior official from Mr Berlusconi's party.

The former prime minister would consider helping Mr Renzi to push a separate electoral reform through Parliament if the premier stays in office despite a "No" vote on Dec 4 and is genuinely open to working with one of his predecessors, said the official from Forza Italia, who asked not to be named.

Mr Renzi will need the votes of Mr Berlusconi's group to get electoral reform through the Senate, the official said.

Mr Berlusconi would still press for an early election in the first months of next year and Mr Renzi would need to be receptive to his input for the deal to work, the official added.

The 80-year-old billionaire has opposed Mr Renzi's plan to curtail the powers of the Senate and prevent it from bringing down governments, arguing it would make the premier too powerful.

An alliance between Mr Renzi, 41, and Mr Berlusconi would help block the path to power for the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, which is just behind the premier's Democratic Party in opinion polls.

Financial markets are nervous about the prospect of political instability in the event of a "No" vote, and of Five Star exploiting any stumble.

"There's a very strong likelihood that Renzi and Berlusconi would form a pact for electoral reform," Mr Francesco Galietti, head of political consultancy firm Policy Sonar, said in a phone interview.

"They need to change the electoral system to make it more favourable for setting up coalitions - that's the only way they can keep Five Star out of power."

A pact with Mr Renzi would pull Mr Berlusconi, who underwent heart surgery in June, out of the political wilderness.

His rule as Italy's longest-serving post-war premier was plagued by allegations of misconduct, which he denied, and he was convicted of tax fraud in 2013, losing his Senate seat as a result. He spent 10 months doing community service and is currently banned from running for public office, a measure against which he is appealing to the European Court of Human Rights.

Mr Renzi has promised to resign if he loses the vote, although he has stopped repeating the pledge in recent interviews. "I have a lot of self-esteem, some people say too much, but I'm very aware that my personal fate is worth much less than the constitutional reform which is for our children, " he told Radio 24 on Wednesday.

Opinion polls indicate a narrow lead for the "No" campaign, with a survey by the Ixe institute published on Thursday showing 39 per cent of voters against the reforms and 37.5 per cent in favour.

BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 07, 2016, with the headline 'Berlusconi 'poised for comeback' to help Renzi'. Print Edition | Subscribe