As political resurrections go, that of Silvio Berlusconi, who once described himself as the “Jesus Christ of politics,” has been close to miraculous.
As his 80th birthday approached, the Italian multi-billionaire and former prime minister was recovering from a major heart operation and facing seven years in jail for sex with an underage prostitute at his lavish “bunga-bunga” sex parties – a charge that he denied and that was ultimately overturned.
Now, on the eve of the Italian elections on Sunday, the 81-year-old has emerged as a grandfatherly elder statesman, the kingmaker of a right-wing alliance and a bulwark against populism, even if a 2012 conviction for tax fraud means he can’t hold public office himself.
According to the final poll of voter intentions, the center-right alliance he brokered looks set to take the largest share of the vote at 36.8%.
The coalition includes Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party, the xenophobic far-right Northern League, and the neo-fascist Brothers of Italy.
In Sicily in southern Italy, Forza Italia polled 40% in regional elections last year.
“A lot of people see him (Berlusconi) as the devil they know,” Peter Ceretti, Italy analyst with the Economist Intelligence Unit, told CNN.
“As long as he stays healthy and can keep doing what he is doing, he will continue to outperform the others.”
“He goes away in 2011, his image completely tarnished. He comes back in 2018 as a reassuring grandfather and animal lover. Some Italians will believe anything,” Marco Travaglio, journalist and Berlusconi nemesis said in an interview with the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera on Monday.