Former Italian Prime Minister and president Silvio Berlusconi ELIANO IMPERATO/AFP/Getty Images

The Bunga-Bunga Party Returns to Italy

In Italy's general election in March, the biggest winner will most likely be Silvio Berlusconi, a former prime minister whose name has long been associated with scandal. More remarkable, Berlusconi's role in forming the next government might actually represent stability in the face of a populist insurgency.

LONDON – Now that Italy’s next general election has been set for March 4, the main contestants are limbering up for a tough eight-week campaign. The outcome is expected to be messy and inconclusive, but one thing already seems clear: the pacesetter may not be the 31- or 42-year-old sprinters heading the two leading parties, but rather an 81-year-old marathon runner.

Yes, as shocking as it is, the kingmaker in this election could be none other than Silvio Berlusconi, the three-time prime minister who popularized the term “bunga-bunga party.” Berlusconi, who last left office ignominiously in 2011, when the euro sovereign-debt crisis threatened to engulf Italy, cannot yet aspire to a fourth term – or to any public office – owing to a tax-fraud conviction in 2013, yet the center-right coalition he leads has the most momentum going into the election.

Italy’s last general election, in February 2013, was also messy and inconclusive. Since then, the country has been governed by coalitions led by the center-left Democratic Party (PD). And now, heading into the campaign, Italy is experiencing its fastest economic growth in more than a decade, though unemployment remains stubbornly high, at more than 11% (and roughly 35% for younger workers). Yet that isn’t helping the PD.

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