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Berlusconi hot favourite to win Italian elect -

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VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Italy's right-wing billionaire, Sylvio Berlusconi, has already disproved the
saying that there are no second acts in politics. But now he's hoping for a third.

This weekend he's favoured to be elected Italian prime minister again. He's been investigated for
corruption and criticised for his conflict of interest as Italy's dominant media mogul. But the
polls suggest that with the new right-wing party and a new look, Mr Berlusconi is making a

Stephanie Kennedy reports from Rome.

STEPHANIE KENNEDY: He's already twice been prime minister and twice been dumped by Italian voters
but now, even with fresh corruption charges hanging over him, the multi-billionaire tycoon Sylvio
Berlusconi is back. If opinion polls are right, this weekend he'll lead his new party, the grandly
names People of Freedom and their right-wing allies, back into power.

But it's not only the name that's new, the 71-year-old has had an extreme makeover - a heart
pacemaker, plastic surgery and a thicker thatch of black hair that's been described as the human
equivalent of astro-turf.

GENNARO CARAVANO, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: He wants to appear younger because for vanity.


GENNARO CARAVANO: The things work together, you know. It's not like something bad or something,
it's seen like a part of Berlusconi's personality.

STEPHANIE KENNEDY: At a luxurious villa in had hills overlooking the capital, Italy's well-heeled
have gathered to throw their support behind Mr Berlusconi. These are his core supporters, Italy's
wealthy and well-connected. He's taken them to the top before. In the 90s, his Forza Italia Party
inspired the kind of fervour normally reserved for Italian football teams including Mr Berlusconi's
own AC Milan. The right cared little for the criticism of Mr Berlusconi's conflicts of interest,
particularly over the fact that the billionaire owns more than 50 per cent of the country's media.

But Mr Berlusconi needs more than his long-term fans to win a third election. Despite being the
frontrunner, he needs to win a swathe of undecided voters and to combat his opponents' youthful

Walter Veltroni, a former mayor of Rome, is nearly 20 years younger than Mr Berlusconi. He's
leading the other main party, the centre-left democratic party. He's criss-crossed the country in
an eco-friendly bus and he's campaigning for change. His slogan is, 'we can do it'.

WALTER VETRONI, DEMOCRATIC PARTY LEADER (voiceover translation): Italy hasn't changed. Italy is
static. We have lost position in Europe. The growth of the country is not adequate and now is the
moment for a clear change. We have to turn the page of the last 15 years.

STEPHANIE KENNEDY: But Mr Berlusconi is dismissive of his opponents.

SYLVIO BERLUSCONI, PEOPLE OF FREEDOM LEADER (voiceover translation): Don't waste your time. When
the left gets into government, this is what happens to their policies.

STEPHANIE KENNEDY: And just to push his disdain for the left further, this week he created a storm
by saying left-wing women are ugly. Whoever wins this beauty contest, no one is betting they'll
hold the crown for long.

Since World War II, Italy has had 60 governments; some lasted just a few months. The problem lies
in the country's electoral laws - it's highly proportional. None of the major parties can win an
outright majority, so they're forced to go into coalition with any number of minor parties. The
challenge has been keeping those coalitions united.

No wonder many Italians hesitate to embrace either side of politics.

VOTER: I'm still undecided because I believe that the major coalitions are basically the same.

CARLO PRATESI, ROME UNIVERSITY: Communist or Greens or the extreme right - and so when they are
inside usually they don't get - fit together so well, so after a while when the problems have to be
solved. Usually they don't fit and they don't agree on some important issues like abortion or
global heating, what to do if to reduce something or something else. That's why at the end they
fight and the Government fell.

STEPHANIE KENNEDY: There are over 150 parties contesting this election and the choice is varied
from the Communist Party to the Impotent Party. Minor parties killed off the last Government of
Romano Prodi and with no clear choice, they could once again become the king-makers.

Stephanie Kennedy, Lateline.