Italy's Berlusconi says early elections would be 'irresponsible'

Former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi has been mentioned for the presidency despite his frail health and scandal-filled career.
Former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi has been mentioned for the presidency despite his frail health and scandal-filled career.PHOTO: REUTERS

ROME (AFP) - Early elections in Italy would be "irresponsible", former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi said on Sunday (Oct 24), reiterating his support for the coalition government led by Mr Mario Draghi.

In an interview with the Corriere della Sera newspaper, the scandal-plagued leader of the centre-right Forza Italia party also expressed frustration with political infighting on the right that contributed to the bloc's poor showing in recent mayoral contests around the country.

"This government is taking Italy out of the health and economic emergency," Mr Berlusconi said of the national unity government led by Mr Draghi.

"It is a difficult job that is proceeding with good results thanks to the sense of responsibility of all the political forces," the 85-year-old said.

"It would be really irresponsible to think of interrupting it before its time to lock the country in an election campaign."

National elections are scheduled for 2023 but a breakdown of the coalition could hasten early polls, something hoped for by Mr Giorgia Meloni, whose hard-right Brothers of Italy opposition party leads in opinion polls.

Mr Meloni and others have suggested that Mr Draghi replace current president Sergio Mattarella, whose term ends in February. That would force new elections but put at risk the vast reform efforts Mr Draghi has launched in return for the lion's share of the European Union's post-Covid-19 recovery fund.

Mr Berlusconi has himself been mentioned for the presidency despite his frail health and scandal-filled career, but the media mogul told Corriere della Sera he would not discuss such a possibility while Mr Mattarella was "in full swing".

Mr Meloni and Mr Matteo Salvini, the leader of the far-right League party, "both have great abilities and a strong character," Mr Berlusconi said.

"Between now and the elections, which are not imminent, the best solution will be found," he added.

"However, the centre-right must distinguish itself for the balance, seriousness and consistency of its proposals, not for its internal issues."

Last week, a Tuscan court acquitted Mr Berlusconi of bribing a witness in the notorious "Rubygate" scandal over sex parties he hosted.

He had been accused of paying a piano player present at his "Bunga Bunga" parties to lie about the evenings, but the court found both innocent.