An Italian court has overturned a ban that would have kept Italy’s former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi from seeking office until at least late 2019. Berlusconi, who resigned as prime minister in 2011, was expelled from parliament in November 2013 following a conviction for tax fraud. The conviction came with a six-year ban on holding elected office.
But six years is such a long time, especially for a public servant who did nothing to besmirch his own reputation in office other than stand trial more than a dozen times for fraud or bribery; changed the law to delay his trials; refused to relinquish control of Italian media after taking office; asked a female employee graphic questions about her sex life on a visit to a green-energy company; told Italian earthquake victims to view their sudden homelessness as a “camping holiday”; garnered a conviction (later overturned), a delayed seven-year prison sentence, and an appearance in the US State Department’s annual human trafficking report for having sex with an underage Moroccan girl; and referred to Italy as a “shit country that makes me sick” during a taped phone call.
A court in Milan lifted the ban more than a year early, citing Berlusconi’s “good conduct” since the conviction. His Forza Italia party hailed the move, with a statement crowing: “Finally five years of injustice has come to end … Berlusconi can once again be a candidate.”
So what does good conduct look like, Berlusconi-style?
Since being banned from office, Berlusconi has not strayed far from the public eye. People over the age of 70 can’t be sent to prison in Italy (a handy change to the law that Berlusconi, 77 at the time of his 2013 conviction, oversaw in office). So he served the four-year prison sentence that came with his tax fraud conviction doing unpaid community work. He spent four hours a week at an Alzheimer’s hospice center before successfully petitioning to end his community service term less than a year after he started.
He was photographed cuddling lambs in an animal-protection campaign in advance of the 2017 Easter holiday, and then turned his attention back to politics. He campaigned for Forza Italia in the run-up to the March elections, at one event hugging right-wing politician Attilio Fontana just a few weeks after Fontana said “the white race” should be defended “as an ethnic reality.” He also pledged that Forza Italia would ensure the protection of stray dogs and cats.
The legal ruling may further complicate Italian politics. Two parties—the anti-establishment Five Star Movement and right-wing The League—were set to form a coalition after a months-long stalemate since the March 4 elections. Given his newfound liberties, Berlusconi may try to undermine the coalition for his own political gain.