He's hinted at a return to politics, but remains coy. The ex-Italian prime minister's hesitation is part of his strategy to win back popularity. But just how successful a Berlusconi comeback would be remains to be seen.
Silvio Berlusconi is not surrounding himself with the usual gaggle of beautiful, bikini-clad young women this summer. Instead, the former prime minister is showing Italians his other, much sportier, side.
Recently, the 75-year-old has been pictured jogging in the tabloid press, and according to his personal physician, Alberto Zangrillo, Berlusconi has never felt better. Perhaps, Italy's ex-premier can do without his usual beach holiday in Sardinia this summer and instead head to Milan to start planning his grand re-entry into the political fray.
Berlusconi is keen for round two in the political arena, even if he doesn't openly admit it. His hesitation is simply part of his political strategy. And the more aloof his behavior, the more likely Berlusconi will lead his party, Popolo della Libertá, to the 2013 parliamentary elections.
But what more can Berlusconi really offer Italians? A lot of show, of course. For weeks, he's been spreading rumors about a possible return to the political stage. His party colleagues have no doubt begged him to make a comeback for the next election. Indeed, Berlusconi's party has struggled without him: the founder and financial sponsor of Popolo della Libertá. Without Silvio Berlusconi at the center the party has been crumbling.
However, what chance does he have in the Italian elections? "Berlusconi is always full of surprises. He always bounces back, and the worse his chances are, the more it gets him going," says the Milan media scholar Giorgio Grossi.
Berlusconi is also the consummate alpha male, and didn't step down as prime minister of his own accord. Therefore, neither corruption allegations, court rulings, nor bunga-bunga-scandals involving extravagant parties with prostitutes are doing to deter him. Berlusconi was forced to resign following the numerous scandals and for being unable to resolve Italy's debt crisis with an economy on the brink of default. President Giorgio Napoletano had no choice but to pull the plug, hastily bringing in a transitional government led by economics professor Mario Monti.
A lot of show but not much substance
The initial relief over the Monti government's takeover, with its efforts toward economic reforms and austerity packages, has since vanished, both in the financial markets and elsewhere around the country.
More and more Italians are displeased with his cutbacks in health and welfare services, and are grumbling at the increased age for retirement.
Berlusconi, meanwhile, is distinguishing himself, again as a populist, with sweeping demands, such as throwing Germany out of the eurozone.
Berlusconi? Italians are divided
“What has Berlusconi still got to offer?” asks Angelo Biretta and Corrado Della Porta, both men in his mid-forties. They say younger, politically interested people want a radical new beginning for their country. They don't want to see the same old faces, and Berlusconi they say is a political pensioner.
“We need new, unused politicians who put our country back on course,“ says Giordano Palla who suspended his IT studies for a job making pizzas. “Only a political reset can save Italy from the crisis”.
Few Italians believe that Silvio Berlusconi is responsible for the crisis. Although the entrepreneur governed for many years, during that time he instituted no significant reforms and put Italy on the path to the dire economic straits it now finds itself in. "The crisis is global and not homemade," says the waitress Floriana Bassi, and her brother Alberto adds: "Perhaps Berlusconi, as a businessman, understands best how to get us out of this mess." Once again, the hopes of many Italians are riding on Berlusconi, and the ex-premier knows better than anyone how to capitalize on that. There is a good chance we'll be seeing him at the next election.