Berlusconi allies criticize party name change
By NICOLE WINFIELD Associated Press July 16, 2012 9:06AM
Updated: July 16, 2012 9:06AM
ROME — Former Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi suggested in an interview published Monday that he will attempt a return to power — using the old party name that brought him into politics two decades ago.
In an interview in Germany’s Bild newspaper, Berlusconi said he is asked “often and emphatically” to step back into the political ring.
“I can only say I won’t let my old People of Freedom Party down. We will soon return to the old party name by the way, ‘Forza Italia’ (Go Italy).”
Berlusconi came to power in 1994 using the catchy soccer chant as his motto, and he dominated Italy’s political scene until he was forced to resign in November with the country in financial shambles and a personal legacy tarnished by sex and corruption scandals.
By Monday afternoon, though, enough of his political allies had criticized the name change to compel Berlusconi to issue a statement backing down, saying his was just a proposal, not a solid decision by the party.
In a way it was classic Berlusconi revisionism: the interview with the name change quote was posted verbatim on his website, yet Berlusconi insisted he had been misunderstood.
In recent days, members of Berlusconi’s inner circle have spoken openly that the media mogul would run in elections next spring. On Sunday, his onetime political heir, Angelino Alfano, essentially admitted he would step aside to make way for a new Berlusconi run.
But not all party members favor Berlusconi’s return: Rome Mayor Gianni Alemanno, for example, noted that People of Freedom members had elected Alfano party secretary with the express intention of making him the center-right candidate in 2013 elections. In an interview with Rome daily La Repubblica, Alemanno said a party primary would be necessary to determine if voters really are behind Berlusconi despite the scandals that continue to vex him.
Even Alfano hinted that the name change was a bad idea, noting that the People of Freedom party was a beloved “project” that involved millions of Italians.
In addition, the Northern League party, Berlusconi’s longtime coalition ally, no longer supports him, complicating any re-election bid.
In Italy, it’s common for political parties to change their names and logos in a bid to reinvent themselves, even though the politicians and policies remain essentially the same.
In the Bild interview, Berlusconi said he saw his resignation as a way to allow Premier Mario Monti to use his broad support to bring about necessary changes. Monti, an economist and former European Commissioner, has raised taxes and pushed through painful reforms to the pension and labor market systems.
“I wanted to make reforms possible,” Berlusconi said.
Monti has ruled out running for office when his term ends in 2013.
David Rising contributed from Berlin.