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Why Do Italians Keep Voting for Berlusconi?

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Why Do Italians Keep Voting for Berlusconi?


Why Do Italians Keep Voting for Berlusconi?

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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The Pope left the Vatican just as Rome, indeed all of Italy, is sorting out national politics again. An election over the weekend brought back the extraordinary figure of Silvio Berlusconi.


Really extraordinary. A self-made billionaire, twice prime minister before, a media mogul convicted of fraud, a man who glories in his surgically enhanced youthful image, but he led his rightist coalition to majorities in both houses of parliament.

CHADWICK: Beppe Severgnini is a columnist for Corriere della Sera, that's a paper in Milan. Beppe, welcome to Day to Day. What is it that Italian voters like about this guy?

Mr. BEPPE SEVERGNINI (Corriere Della Sera): Well, you may start to ask what they don't like about the other lot. I mean, many Italians don't like the left any forms or shape, and well, Mr. Berlusconi is a good salesman. And he can sort of excite these voters, and he can promise things. He talks about football, about pretty women, and he's an optimist. I think Italy needs a lot of optimism, and, obviously, he managed to convince enough people, and actually quite a lot of people, that he's again the only one who can sort Italy out. It didn't happen in 2001 to 2006. He had five years in office, actually, not much happened, but again, he has been given his third chance. Very unusual for a prime minister.

CHADWICK: You mentioned that he talks about football. He owns the most successful, the biggest football team, AC Milan. Football is soccer, I mean. He owns television stations. He's a very flamboyant kind of guy, but, from I've read, he barely campaigned in any kind of normal way. He didn't offer actual programs. He just ran as himself.

Mr. SEVERGNINI: A good sign because he promised so much the other two times around that he knew people wouldn't believe him. So he said, you know, it's going to be tough, but I'm going to do my best. I've got to do this and that. But although he promised a few things, like, you know, I'm going to sort of write off the housing tax, and we really don't know what that kind of money will come from. I'm going to build a brand new city next to the big cities for the young people. Again, that costs a lot of money. So we don't know, but it seems that the people have voted a character. And they say OK, I'm going to go vote for this guy.

CHADWICK: Because they like him, no matter what he's going to do.

Mr. SEVERGNINI: Well, it's a character thing. People - I've been reading excellent stuff in the U.S. about how people make up their mind about candidates. You know, it's a probably a matter of seconds and minutes. You like his tone of voice, you like his - the way he approaches things. You like, you know - I'm not a Berlusconi voter, but I'm trying to understand why so many of my countrymen like him because they are the majority. We are a democracy, so let's wish him good luck.

CHADWICK: Here's something I saw in the Los Angeles Times. The Association of Italian Industrialists finds that the mafia now accounts for seven percent of the Italian gross domestic product, making the mafia the biggest business in Italy. How do you govern a place like this?

Mr. SEVERGNINI: Well, first of all I don't know how they work out that figure. That's a sort of fascinating thing about figures and statistics. But first of all, we need to explain our listeners that, when we say mafia, we don't mean the Sicilian mafia only, but we mean all forms of organized crimes. We have the Ndrangheta Calabria, we have the Camorain(ph), Napels, so we are talking about organized crime, not only about mafia.


Mr. SEVERGNINI: And it is true that they are - it's really widespread. It's not people going around and shooting like Chicago in the 20s. It's like, they control business. They get big contracts. They want to ransom money from shopkeepers and that kind of stuff. It's really difficult, and you really need a tough state that will come and help the people that need that kind of help.

CHADWICK: Beppe Severgnini is a columnist for Corriere della Sera in Milan. He's also the author of "La Bella Figura: A Field Guide to the Italian Mind." Beppe, thank you.

Mr. SEVERGNINI: Wish us luck! Bye-bye.

CHADWICK: Stay with us on Day to Day from NPR News.

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