Former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi is making his return to Italy’s parliament, just in time to celebrate his 86th birthday, winning a seat in the senate nearly a decade after being banned from holding public office after a tax fraud conviction.
Mr Berlusconi, who has made personal comebacks a hallmark of Italian politics for three decades, was re-elected to Italy’s upper house with more than 50% of the votes on Sunday in the northern city of Monza, where he also owns a soccer team that was recently promoted to Italy’s top division.
While overall his party lost ground compared with the 2018 general elections, it fared better than expected and Mr Berlusconi’s victory was particularly heartfelt.
“Regaining a seat in the senate was a sort of personal revenge for Berlusconi, after all the judicial problems he went through,” said Massimiliano Panarari, political analyst at Rome’s Mercatorum University.
In 2013, the senate expelled him because of a tax fraud conviction stemming from his media business, and he was banned from holding public office for six years.
After he served a sentence of community service, a court ruled he could once again hold public office and he won a seat in the European Parliament in 2019.
His third and last premiership had ended abruptly in 2011, when financial markets lost confidence that the billionaire media magnate could manage Italy’s finances during Europe’s sovereign debt crisis.
Mr Berlusconi’s Forza Italia centre-right party, which pioneered populist politics in Italy in the 1990s, gained just over 8% in Sunday’s vote, which was dominated by his ally Giorgia Meloni.
She is now poised to lead the country’s first far-right government since the Second World War.
It was a better-than-expected result for Forza Italia, even though it still amounted to a significant loss of support compared with the 14% of the votes it received in 2018 elections.
The party has grown weaker in the past decades, hit by Mr Berlusconi’s judicial woes and his recurring health problems, but it has remained relevant enough.
Beating expectations, Forza Italia finished right behind its other ally, the anti-immigrant League of Matteo Salvini, which won only about 9% of the vote, down from 17% in 2018.
Mr Berlusconi has pledged to exercise a moderating influence over the other two more radical parties.
“Forza Italia proved decisive for the success of the centre-right and the formation of the next government,” he enthused in a tweet. “Once again I put myself at the service of Italy, of the country I love.”
Analysts noted that, despite some grotesque performances on TikTok, which he used in the electoral campaign to reach young voters with anecdotes and jokes, the three-term prime minister succeeded in gaining a new space on Italy’s political stage.
Forza Italia si conferma decisiva per il successo del centrodestra e determinante per la formazione del prossimo governo.
Ancora una volta, ho messo il mio impegno al servizio dell’Italia, del Paese che amo.
Vi ringrazio per la fiducia. pic.twitter.com/QUz5kVkFge
— Silvio Berlusconi (@berlusconi) September 26, 2022
“I’ve still got it,” he said in one viral video clip, after he successfully nailed a fly that had landed on his forehead during a television interview.
He raised eyebrows late in the campaign when he seemed to justify Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, saying he was forced into it by pro-Moscow separatists in Donbas.
“The troops were supposed to enter, reach Kyiv within a week, replace Zelensky’s government with decent people and then leave,” Mr Berlusconi told his favourite late-night talk show host. Later he backtracked, saying his words had been “oversimplified”,
But Mr Berlusconi has a long, friendly history with Putin: He has entertained the Russian leader at his Sardinian villas and even visited Crimea with Mr Putin in 2014 after the Russian leader annexed the peninsula from Ukraine.
Berlusconi was not the only winner in the household.
Berlusconi’s 32-year-old girlfriend, Marta Fascina, also obtained a seat in the lower house of parliament, after winning the vote in the Sicilian constituency of Marsala, despite never showing up in the island during the campaign.
In an interview with an Italian newspaper, Fascina said she used to go there with her father on holiday when she was a child.