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Italy's 'immortal' Silvio Berlusconi bouncing back in polls and could become kingmaker

  • The center-right party of Italian politician and ex-Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is leading voter polls.
  • Berlusconi could now be central to forming a new government in elections looking likely in early 2018, according to analysts.
  • Rating bounces despite a political career plagued by corruption allegations and sex scandals.
Silvio Berlusconi
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Silvio Berlusconi

The center-right party of Italian politician and ex-Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is leading voter polls in the country and could now be central to forming a new government in elections looking likely in early 2018, according to analysts.

Despite a political career that has been plagued by corruption allegations and sex scandals, Berlusconi is seeing a bounce back in opinion polls against a backdrop of increasing voter anger and apathy at the state of Italian politics.

Last weekend, an Ipsos poll conducted for Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera showed that Berlusconi was back leading the polls and that a center-right coalition -- made up of Berlusconi's Forza Italia and other similar conservative parties Lega Nord and Fratelli d'Italia -- could capture up to 35 percent of votes.

The poll showed that current center-left ruling Democratic Party (PD) - a party which has been fraught with in-fighting following a failed referendum on constitutional reform last year - was lagging behind with 26.9 percent of the vote and the populist 5 Star Movement (M5S) with 27.6 percent of the vote.

Wolfango Piccoli, co-president of risk consultancy Teneo Intelligence, said in a note on Tuesday that it was "Silvio, not (former Prime Minister Matteo) Renzi, that has the magic."

"Former PM Silvio Berlusconi is increasingly likely to become the kingmaker after the next elections, which are unlikely to take place before early 2018," he said.

"Between a center-left that seems to be in a perpetual crisis and a populist Five Star Movement (M5S) that is recovering from a disastrous performance in the recent local elections, the center-right is enjoying positive momentum. This is largely due to the work of the eternal survivor of Italian politics, Silvio Berlusconi."

PM, again?

The poll results and the possibility that the octogenarian politician and four-time former prime minister Berlusconi could return to power has surprised some political analysts, although many have come to expect the unexpected when it comes to the charismatic, if not controversial, politician.

Despite having been expelled from the Italian Senate in 2013 for his conviction for tax fraud (and there have been countless other accusations, trials and acquittals for a variety of charges), Berlusconi has refused to bow out of the limelight and retire. Even Berlusconi's doctor has reportedly joked that his patient, who turns 81 in September, is "technically immortal."

Mauro Barogiola, an analyst at Citi, said in a note Tuesday that Berlusconi's bounce back was surprising.

"We would say that this is a quite an amazing result for a leader who first became prime minister in 1994 - when other current leaders barely had a driving license," Barogiola said.

"Although some years ago the Economist (publication) famously questioned Silvio Berlusconi's fitness for office, he seems to be back (as per the polls) leveraging: i) the internal frictions at PD; ii) the lack of a program at M5S seen as credible and iii) the proposal of Ius Soli (a bill granting Italian citizenship to foreign babies born on Italian soil ) – hardly the most popular political program under current circumstances."

Barogiola said media mogul Berlusconi could go for the prime minister's job again should forthcoming regional election results see more support for the center-right and a scenario favoring a coalition at the expense of the ruling PD party.

"We believe that Sicily elections (held in November) might shape the future of Italy," Barogiola said. "In a system favoring coalition – Silvio Berlusconi (assuming he's cleared for the job) rather than Matteo Renzi might run for the prime minister's job."

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