Berlusconi, leader of the centre-right Forza Italia (Go Italy, FI) and head of a four-party coalition that is expected to garner the most votes in Sunday’s election, was his usual flamboyant self at a meeting held in front of media and supporters in Rome.
The 81-year-old former prime minister and media tycoon overshadowed his three coalition partners by arriving last and basking in applause and chants of “Silvio, Silvio” led by the assembled party activists.
Berlusconi attempted to play down speculation of severe divisions between him and allied far-right party leaders Matteo Salvini of the League and Giorgia Meloni of the Brothers of Italy (FdI).
But the unity display was the one and only time all four coalition candidates, including Raffaele Fitto with his minor We Are With Italy party (NcI), will meet in public in this election campaign.
Berlusconi brushed off talk of splits, claiming that they all spoke by telephone “every day”.
“If there were no difference between us we wouldn’t be a coalition, we would be a single party,” he said.
According to the final opinion polls for the election, the rightwing coalition is the only one with a chance of winning a majority in parliament.
The grouping has won support with its hardline proposals on immigration, including a promise to deport 600,000 “irregular” migrants.
– Last laugh –
The anti-establishment Five Star Movement is also expected to increase its support on Sunday.
The party broke with tradition on Thursday by announcing its list of ministerial nominees, almost all of them political newcomers, before the election.
The M5S said it wanted to announce its choice for ministers early to distinguish itself from traditional parties, which it said would end up making backroom deals for ministerial posts once election results were in.
“This is not a government in the shadows but a government in the light of day for Italians. We are doing something that has never been done before,” prime ministerial hopeful Luigi Di Maio said at an event in Rome.
“Some people have mocked this decision but we will be the ones laughing on Monday,” the day after the election, the 31-year-old said.
Among the nominees were three women for the posts of foreign, defence and interior ministers — all of them respected academics — and a swimming champion to be sports minister in a hypothetical M5S government.
But the M5S have been criticised heavily for their running of the Rome and Turin city councils since taking control of the two cities in 2016, and Berlusconi said he refused to “even consider” working with the party.
– ‘More Italy!’ –
Forza Italia and the League, the two parties within the rightwing coalition destined to pick up the most votes, are battling to come out on top in order to control who will choose the coalition’s prime ministerial candidate.
Berlusconi himself cannot be a candidate because of a fraud conviction but has hinted he could name European Parliament President Antonio Tajani as his favourite.
That has failed to deter youthful Berlusconi supporters on Thursday, who shouted their support for him to become prime minister to Salvini’s apparent displeasure.It is not just the choice of premier that divides the coalition.
Berlusconi favours a pro-Europe, moderate rightwing line, while both the League and FdI bash an anti-Brussels drum.
“Some people say ‘more Europe’, I say ‘more Italy!’,” Salvini shouted at the campaign event.
Also on Thursday, the neo-fascist CasaPound movement held a final campaign rally in Rome where leader Simone Di Stefano voiced confidence about the party entering parliament for the first time.
The rally passed off peacefully despite a counter-protest by leftist campaigners nearby and clashes between the two sides in the past.