Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Berlusconi: Media Tycoon Unites the Italian Right Controversial Milan Executive Forms Coalition to Boost Right-Wing Prospects in the March 27-28 Elections, but His Party Could Splinter after the Poll

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Berlusconi: Media Tycoon Unites the Italian Right Controversial Milan Executive Forms Coalition to Boost Right-Wing Prospects in the March 27-28 Elections, but His Party Could Splinter after the Poll

Article excerpt

THE man to beat in this month's Italian parliamentary elections is media tycoon Silvio Berlusconi.

His right-wing Forza Italia was launched as a political party in January, designed to boost the right's prospects for emerging victorious under Italy's newly reformed electoral system.

The Milan businessman has enjoyed stunning success in the opinion polls, though divisions with Forza Italia and aggressive campaigning from the left may erode his support in the run-up to the March 27-28 vote.

In about a month and a half, Mr. Berlusconi's party has garnered the backing of about a quarter of a nation looking for the way out of a series of corruption scandals that discredited an entire political class.

"I wouldn't vote for him myself, but I understand why he's popular," says Rome resident Erminia Bosco. "He's a new man and he's saying things people want to hear: `We want to change. We want to pay fewer taxes.' He'll certainly get a lot of votes."

Mr. Berlusconi's new party and his candidacy for Parliament were sharply criticized by the left, which accuses him of entering politics simply to protect his business interests (which likely would be curtailed by a victorious left).

Berlusconi owns three television networks that compete directly with the three state-owned RAI channels, TV and movie production companies, advertising agencies, the nation's leading newsweekly, book publishers, a supermarket chain, sports teams, and numerous other ventures. In no other Western country does one person have such media clout, his opponents say. Buying air time

In an attempt to allay criticism, Berlusconi resigned from the leadership of Fininvest holding company, though he buys large amounts of time on his channels for Forza Italia commercials.

The ex-Communist left calls him Citizen Berlusconi, Big Brother, even the Italian Ross Perot. They add that anyone who admits to having been a close friend of Bettino Craxi, the ex-prime minister and former leader of the centrist Socialist Party, can hardly be considered a new face. Mr. Craxi is popularly seen as the architect of a system of kickbacks that allegedly netted the Socialist Party millions of dollars over the years.

Berlusconi entered politics, he told the nation in January, to save Italy from the ex-Communists who, he says, have not changed despite their rhetoric.

"Their men are still the same: Their way of thinking, their culture, their deepest convictions, their behavior are the same," he said. "For this reason we're forced to go against them: because we believe in the individual, in the family, in business, in competition, in development, in efficiency, in the free market, and in solidarity born of justice and liberty."

With the creation of an electoral system along British lines, Italy's numerous parties have formed three large coalitions. …

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