Rome, December 3 - Ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi's return to front-line politics is more likely after Democratic Party (PD) leader Pier Luigi Bersani won the centre-left primaries on Sunday, according to most commentators. Berlusconi's centre-right People of Freedom (PdL) party last week held off on a decision about whether to scrap a primary of its own scheduled for December 16. Most political pundits said this was because Berlusconi wanted to know who his main rival would be before making an announcement on whether he would stand for a fourth term at the helm of government in next spring's national elections. The 76-year-old media magnate said he would retire from politics after being forced to resign as prime minister to make way for Premier Mario Monti's emergency administration a year ago, when Italy's debt crisis looked in danger of spiralling out of control. But he has changed his mind several times in recent months about whether to make a comeback, with his party, which has been hit by corruption scandals, internal rifts and confusion, struggling in the polls. The ex-premier was said to have been unlikely to stand if Florence Mayor Matteo Renzi had won Sunday's centre-left primary runoff. This is because the 37-year-old, a slick media performer who is friendly to business and sits closer to the middle of the political spectrum, would probably have been a tougher opponent as he would have had more appeal with traditional centre-right supporters disaffected with the PdL. Although Bersani is a moderate and, like Renzi, said he would continue with Monti's policies if elected premier, he is widely seen as representing the traditional Italian left as he is a former member of Italy's former Communist party. A series of corruption scandals affecting top centre-right politicians in Rome and Milan have contributed to the PdL, which is the biggest party in parliament at the moment, dropping to third in the opinion polls. But the party has also been suffering from a vacuum of leadership since Berlusconi stepped back from the front line. Berlusconi has reportedly dropped plans to abandon the PdL and recreate his old party, Forza Italia. But the party may split anyway because many former members of the right-wing National Alliance (AN) party, which merged with Forza Italia in 2009, are unhappy about the direction Berlusconi wants to take the party in. The PdL's mayor of Rome, Gianni Alemanno, said Monday that it would be "irrational" for Berlusconi to stand again, saying the party needed to be rejuvenated. He also admitted to being "envious" of the PD primary. "These primaries have turned out to be an exceptional instrument," Alemanno, a former AN member, told Sky television. "Thanks to the primaries, Bersani can present himself almost as something new, even though he has a long history (in politics). "The centre right cannot do without them".
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di Giovanni Pastore