Why scandal-tinged Silvio Berlusconi still beloved of many Italians
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They call themselves "the club". A doctor, a business-owner, pensioners and engineers - united by their support for one of Europe's most controversial politicians, Silvio Berlusconi.
"We are all Berlusconiani. We do not want [Prime Minister Mario] Monti. We don't want someone who takes orders from Brussels," said teacher Annalisa Lillo, 49, in the Rome antiques shop where the club meets to discuss politics in the evenings. Outsiders might struggle to understand the continued appeal of the four-time, scandal-ridden prime minister, driven from office a year ago at the height of Italy's economic crisis. But while support for his People of Freedom party is half what it once was, it still commands 16.5 percent and remains a formidable player as Italy prepares for elections in February. Fuelled by cake and glasses of sparkling wine, members lobby politicians, attend pro-Berlusconi rallies and scrub off anti-Berlusconi graffiti in the neighbourhood where they meet. On one evening, about 20 men and women between 25 and 75 sat in a circle on assorted antique furniture discussing Berlusconi's return to the leadership of the PDL. "He knows the pulse of Italians," said 39-year old engineer Alessio Brugnoli. "Berlusconi is the obligatory choice."
THAT OLD MAGIC
One poll showed PDL support rose three points in the week after he announced his candidacy, proving there is life in the old man yet and it would be rash to underestimate him. "Berlusconi is an unusual politician. He's a businessman. He's not in politics to claim expenses and get an official car. He lives, works to help businesses," pensioner Augusto Senesi said. "You cannot say he damaged the country." The media mogul's campaign began in earnest this week when he rallied his ample resources to fill the airwaves with the time-worn tenets of his sales pitch: anti-tax, pro-business, and anti-communist. He is making the most of the fact that on Monday, Italians had to pay a hated property tax re-introduced by Monti's government. Berlusconi has promised to cancel it. He illustrated what he sees as a communist threat in an interview on Sunday with a story about a Soviet Union family massacred to force them to reveal the whereabouts of a bishop. This might seem odd to those outside Italy but it emphasised the Marxist origins of much of the country's political left and deftly played on old fears among his conservative voter .
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