ABRAHAM Lincoln was right: You can fool all the people some of the time, and you can fool some of the people all of the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time. Unfortunately, his dictum is irrelevant to modern Italian politics. In a democratic country with a number of different parties, like Italy, you only have to fool about one-third of the people all the time to get and keep political power.
Silvio Berlusconi is making a comeback bid. Only eight months after the disgraced politician left the prime minister’s office by the back entrance to avoid the jeers of hostile crowds (they sang “Hallelujah” instead when they heard he was gone), he is talking about a return to politics before the elections next spring. And he could actually win.
Even six weeks ago this seemed preposterous. “Berlusconi is so dead he doesn’t even wear his makeup any more,” said comedian Beppo Grillo, and the various trials that Berlusconi faced for bribery, fraud, tax evasion, and paying for sex with a 17-year-old girl were taking up most of his time. But if he is a political zombie, he is one with lots of luck and plenty of money.
In February the bribery case, in which Berlusconi was accused of paying British lawyer David Mills to lie under oath in corruption trials in 1997 and 1998, ran out of time under the statute of limitations. (Mills was convicted of accepting the bribe and sentenced to four and a half years in jail, but his sentence was cancelled on final appeal because of the same statute of limitations.)
Indeed, some people argue that Berlusconi first went into politics in 1994 to avoid conviction in various criminal cases. He changed the law on accountancy to escape conviction for false accounting, and so far his changes to the statute of limitations have let him escape from six separate prosecutions for corruption, embezzlement and tax fraud. His most recent escape was last week, when a judge dismissed more tax-fraud charges against him because of the same statute of limitations.
That left only one set of charges relating to financial matters and the case alleging that he paid for sex with a minor at one of his famed “bunga bunga” parties. But she denies it happened, and also denies that his gifts to her of jewellery and money worth $300,000 had anything to do with that denial. So the 75-year-old billionaire is confident that his legal problems are under control.
He would be even safer, however, if he were back in office and able to rewrite the laws whenever necessary, and besides he obviously misses the limelight. So he has started talking about a political comeback — and the circumstances are looking quite promising for him.
He was forced out of office last November because other European leaders were fed up with his embarrassing antics, and because the financial markets had lost all confidence in his government.