Berlusconi party split over ex-premier's return

Former minister Meloni says comeback would be a 'mistake'

Berlusconi party split over ex-premier's return

(see related stories) Rome, December 6 - Silvio Berlusconi's People of Freedom (PdL) party was split on Thursday after the ex-premier suggested he would drop plans to retire from the political front line and run at the upcoming national elections. Many centre-right MPs gave warm approval, saying the 76-year-old's return would end the vacuum of leadership the PdL has suffered since Berlusconi quit as premier last year and help take it up from third place in the opinion poles. "Silvio Berlusconi led the centre-right government until a year ago, guaranteeing social peace and producing results that are incomparable with those of the current technocrat government," said PdL MP Mara Carfagna, the equal opportunities minister in Berlusconi's 2008-2011 government. "We can proudly lay claim to these results in the election campaign. That's why if Silvio Berlusconi decided to represent the centre right and stand for premier again, our work would be much easier". A group of 13 PdL Senators issued a joint statement calling on Berlusconi to drop any lingering doubts he might have about returning to the political fold. "Finally the moment that many inside and outside the PdL had hoped for has come," said PdL MP Alessandra Mussolini, the granddaughter of Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini. "With Berlusconi back in the field, the election contest opens up again and the centre right is revived". But there were also voices of dissent, many coming from former members of the right-wing National Alliance (AN) party, which merged with Berlusconi's Forza Italia party in 2009. "I consider Berlusconi standing again to be a mistake," said Giorgia Meloni, who was youth minister in Berlusconi's last government. "Anyway, these decisions should be discussed and taken by the competent party bodies," added the 35-year-old, who was due to stand in primaries to select the PdL's premier candidate that now look set to be scrapped. Maurizio Gasparri, the PdL's House whip, said Berlusconi should return to the political fray, but in a support role to party Secretary Angelino Alfano and not as premier candidate. "We've asked Berlusconi to take a step forward, but together," Gasparri, who is usually a staunch Berlusconi loyalist, told Corriere della Sera. "He has to be part of the rejuvenation of the party that he started when he selected a 41-year-old (Alfano) as party secretary and he appointed lots of young ministers. "It's not a step back because Alfano will need Berlusconi's incisive, active support even if he is the premier candidate". If Berlusconi confirms he will run in the elections and scraps the party primaries many experts say his party is likely to split. Polls suggest he is unlikely to win the elections, as the centre-right Democratic Party is seen as having the support of over 30% of voters, compared to less than 20% for the PdL, which has been overtaken by comedian Beppe Grillo's anti-establishment Five Star Movement.

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