Berlusconi hints he will not stand for re-election in 2013

Other News Materials 14 April 2011 15:48 (UTC +04:00)

Remarks by Silvio Berlusconi's this week suggesting he will not stand for re-election as Italian prime minister in 2013, have been played down by his spokesman, DPA reported.

The "off the record," comments were made by the premier during a dinner with foreign reporters on Tuesday, but were subsequently leaked to Italian media outlets and published Thursday in many newspapers.

Replying to a question on whether he intended to run again for office when his five-year term expires in 2013, Berlusconi reportedly indicated he would at most stand as a symbolic figurehead for his conservative People of Freedom (PDL) party, but not as a candidate for premier.

"If there's a need for me as a 'noble father,' then I'd be available," Berlusconi was quoted as saying by Milan daily Corriere della Sera.

But the premier's spokesman Paolo Bonaiuti qualified the remarks late Wednesday, saying they "should not be regarded as a certainty but only as a bit of reasoning."

Meanwhile, the PDL had been inundated by faxes and emails asking Berlusconi to stay on, party coordinator Denis Verdini said.

During the dinner with the foreign reporters, the premier also indicated Justice Minister Angelino Alfano as his most likely successor.

"But we are full of very competent people from (Foreign Minister Franco) Frattini to (Labour Minister Maurizio) Sacconi to (Education Minister Mariastella) Gelmini," Berlusconi reportedly said.

Alfano, a 40-year-old Sicilian, has spearheaded judicial reform legislation which the government says is necessary to overhaul Italy's notoriously inefficient judiciary.

Parliament on Wednesday passed a bill the opposition says is tailor-made to help Berlusconi deal with his long-standing legal woes, by allowing the statute of limitations to be applied to several trials involving him and his private media empire.

The 74-year-old premier also said that his candidature for re-election would also "depend on opinion polls."

Many polls indicate that in the wake of several sex scandals, Berlusconi's standing is currently at an all-time low since his 2008 election victory.

However, the premier has insisted that his popularity ratings among Italians continue to top 60 per cent.

Since entering politics in the early 1990s, media-magnate Berlusconi has been dogged by several judicial cases including allegations of tax evasion fraud and corruption.

He is currently a defendant in four trials, the most high profile of which sees him charged with paying a Moroccan go-go dancer for sex when she was 17, and hence underage in terms of Italy's prostitution laws. He denies any wrongdoing.

The trial's next hearing is set for May 31.