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Politics

Italians at odds over Berlusconi comeback

Silvio Berlusconi's announced return to politics has been greeted by wide-spread scepticism. But the unemployed and pensioners have suffered from the austerity reforms - and may support the former prime minister.

"I can't believe Berlusconi wants to get back into politics." Daniele Dvico is horrified. The student has deep fears that Berlusconi might be elected once again. "It's mostly older people who went through Monti's pension cuts, and who don't know anything about jittery financial markets," he said. "It could be that they end up giving their vote to him."

One of those votes might come from Daniele's grandmother. She voted for Berlusconi in 1994, the same year Daniele was born. It was Silvio Berlusconi's first election as prime minister of Italy. That was 18 years ago - a period of time that, despite the plastic surgery and hair transplants, has imprinted itself physically on Mr. Berlusconi.

By comparison, Mario Monti, the economics-professor-turned-prime-minister, appears staid and youthful. But, he was unable to stimulate economic growth.

No growth - except in unemployment

Italy's recession has been prolonged and deep. For many, day-to-day life has worsened since Monti's inauguration.

A rose-colored section of Italy's senate shows a dozen parliamentarians in black suits discussing a recent vote.
(Photo:EPA/GIUSEPPE LAMI)

In December, Monti lost his majority during a confidence vote

The rise in unemployment has been negatively correlated to Monti's popularity. News of his forthcoming resignation was greeted by many with little more than shrugs. A general sense of resignation pervades.

"We really don't have any long-term perspectives," an empty-handed woman who had just walked out of a Milan porcelain and gift shop told Deutsche Welle.

The shop is not exactly overflowing. One customer picks out a decorative plate for cookies; a second runs her fingers indecisively over a number of tea cups. Surreptitiously she raises the cups to eye level and checks the prices.

"People are buying less, and when they do they take the cheaper article," said Lisetta Bocca, who owns the shop. A shake of the head, a sigh - and then the shop owner attends to the display window. She embellishes the tabletops with pinecones and peers through delicate glass ornaments.

Is she satisfied with business in 2012? Not in the slightest.

Austerity slams Italy's lowest earners

A blue-eyed baby wearing a light blue body opens its mouth at the camera.
(Photo: copyright Kirstin Hausen)

Kindergartens and schools saw their funds dry up under Monti

Domestic consumption has shrunk due to drops in consumer purchasing power. Many Italians expected just the opposite from economics professor Monti. Due to problems shaking the Euro zone, however, Italy's situation has deteriorated with alarming speed.

As a result, Monti's primary concern was to re-establish Italy as a creditworthy nation in the eyes of foreign bond purchasers, thereby reopening credit lines to Italy's withering economy. Yet the austerity measure he imposed upon his country to restore credibility have been particularly devastating to Italy's lower and middle income earners. Students like Daniele Davico now believe that his tight-fisted savings program has broken Italy's back.

An early teens child wearing a black baseball cap stands in a small kitchen where little more than a box of cereal can be seen.
(Photo: opyright Kirstin Hausen=

The number of families relying on food stamps is rising

The fact that Italy's stock market dropped dramatically after the announcement of Monti's resignation, or that raising funds on the capital market will once again become more expensive for Italy's government - these headlines are little more than sideshows to the unemployed, the pensioners, the shop owners and restaurateurs of Italy. They're too busy with day-to-day life struggles of survival to pay attention. And they're ripe for Berlusconi's plucking.

Silvio Berlusconi's electoral machine is sliding back into gear. As usual, the media mogul's own television channel is backing him.

At the moment, 80 percent of Italians reject the idea of another term for the former prime minister. Yet the media mogul has until the next round of elections, now planned for February, to change Italy's mind.

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