Berlusconi bounces back with return to Italy's parliament


FILE PHOTO: Forza Italia party leader Silvio Berlusconi casts his vote at a polling station during the snap election, in Milan, Italy, September 25, 2022. REUTERS/Flavio Lo Scalzo

ROME (Reuters) - The Italian right-wing coalition's resounding victory in Sunday's general election marks a return to parliament for former premier Silvio Berlusconi, nine years after he was kicked out over a tax fraud conviction.

Berlusconi, who turns 86 on Thursday, won more than 50% of the votes in a Senate race in the northern constituency of Monza, where the billionaire owns a villa and the local soccer club, newly promoted to the Serie A top division.

"I'm going to try to act as playmaker in the (next) government," Berlusconi told supporters after casting his vote, indicating his desire to stay in the political front-line despite his age and frail health.

Berlusconi had major heart surgery in 2016, became badly ill with COVID in 2020 and has been in and out of hospital over the last year with various ailments. He often slurs his words and appeared to have trouble walking at a Rome rally last week.

In parliament, he will be joined by his girlfriend, Marta Fascina, 32, who won a seat in Sicily. Fascina is set to take up a seat in the lower Chamber of Deputies, while Berlusconi was elected to the upper house, the Senate.

He will have to give up a seat in the European Parliament, which he won in 2019, as serving in both the Italian and EU assemblies is not allowed. Some have speculated he might seek the presidency of the Senate, despite his health worries.

In other high-profile races, hard-right leader Giorgia Meloni, leader of the Brothers of Italy party and likely new prime minister, trounced rivals as she took more than 51% of the vote in the central constituency of l'Aquila.

The election seemingly ended the short, but fast-paced career of outgoing Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio, who also has served as deputy prime minister, labour and industry minister over the last five years.

In the previous election in 2018, Di Maio led the populist Five Star Movement to a stunning victory, with around 33%. This time, he was defeated in a constituency contest in Naples, and his small breakaway party took less than 1% nationwide.

Defeat came despite some inventive campaigning, which

saw Di Maio re-enact a famous scene of the "Dirty Dancing" movie, with a group of pizza-makers lifting him up in a flying pose to the soundtrack of "Time of My Life".

Emma Bonino, another former foreign minister and veteran civil rights campaigner, also missed out on re-election after losing in Rome, while Lazio soccer club's colourful chairman, Claudio Lotito, was luckier.

Lotito, whose campaign pledges included a promise to "compensate" local team Campobasso for a 1987 third-division relegation at the hands of Lazio, won a Senate seat in the southern Molise region for Forza Italia, Berlusconi's party.

(Reporting by Alvise Armellini; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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