ROME • Despite a fraud conviction and sex scandal, Italy's 81-year-old former leader Silvio Berlusconi has one last political victory in his sights in a general election less than two weeks away.
Temporarily banned from returning to public office himself, the billionaire media mogul still hopes to influence the country's political direction by leading a right-wing coalition in the March 4 polls.
"I'm pretty confident of the result of the election and going to form a government with our centre-right allies," he told a rally of youth activists from his Forza Italia party in Rome on Wednesday.
Mr Berlusconi "wants to win one last time before retiring", his biographer Alan Friedman was quoted as saying by the Corriere della Sera newspaper.
The three-time former prime minister heads a coalition made up of Forza Italia and two far-right forces: the League and Brothers of Italy.
Recent opinion polls indicate that the coalition has about 38 per cent support overall - the highest score out of Italy's three major electoral groupings.
But it falls short of a majority and surveys suggest millions of voters remain undecided.
The coalition spans the range of Italian right-wing politics, from the pro-European conservative moderates within Forza Italia to former northern secessionists the League and Brothers of Italy, which has roots in post-war neo-fascism.
Together they form a broad church that is ahead of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S) and the centre-left coalition led by the ruling centre-left Democratic Party (PD), who are respectively polling at around 28 and 27 per cent.
In the tight three-way fight, candidates have made economic promises, such as lower taxes and a monthly universal basic income that have observers scratching their heads given Italy's huge public debt of 132 per cent of GDP, one of the highest in Europe.
La Stampa newspaper calculated that Italy would need to spend "the stratospheric sum" of over one trillion euros (S$1.62 trillion) to make them all a reality. None of these big promises will be fulfilled if no group wins a majority.
In that case, the PD under current Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni could remain in power, at least for the next few months.
Pro-European forces within the PD and Forza Italia could create a German-style grand coalition.
Or euro-sceptics from the League and the Five Star Movement could team up.