Marina Berlusconi touted as father’s heir apparent

MILAN (AP) — Italy may get its own political dynasty out of the ashes of Silvio Berlusconi’s political career.

The nation has been buzzing with speculation that Marina Berlusconi will step in as her father’s political heiress ever since the supreme court last week confirmed the three-time former premier’s tax fraud conviction, jail sentence and ban from politics.

Berlusconi’s eldest daughter is a long-time executive at his Mediaset media empire and was among a clutch of close advisers by his side at his Rome residence when the court ruled on Aug. 1. She has in the past repeatedly denied any intention to enter politics, but has remained silent during this new round of speculation.

Political analysts say the prospect of a Marina Berlusconi candidacy is realistic.

“I think it will be accepted within the party, and even among Berlusconi lovers, those hardcore 7 million or 8 million voters,” said Roberto D’Alimonte, a political science professor at Rome’s LUISS University and analyst for il Sole 24 Ore. “The thing I don’t know is if she is ready for it. Because this is something that will change her life, and not necessarily for the better.”

Berlusconi loyalists have gone on the record this week rooting for Marina, who turns 47 on Saturday. Berlusconi’s close friend, the former Renault F1 manager Flavio Briatore, told the Milan daily Corriere della Sera: “She is a very intelligent woman, a Berlusconi — a name that millions of Italians adore.”

And Daniela Santanche, a lawmaker in Berlusconi’s People of Liberty party, said she would back Marina’s leadership: “At that point we would have a dynasty with an American flavor,” she said.

Berlusconi forces are floating mid-September as a date for a rally to launch a Marina Berlusconi candidacy alongside a revival of the Forza Italia — Let’s Go Italy — movement that catapulted Berlusconi to political prominence 20 years ago.

Marina Berlusconi chairs the family’s Fininvest holding company and the Mondadori publishing company, Italy’s largest magazine publisher. Forbes listed her at No. 48 on its 2010 list of world’s most powerful women. Despite her father’s political dominance and her own prominent role in the family business, Marina Berlusconi maintains a low-key public profile and rarely seeks publicity. She is married to a former dancer at La Scala, and they have two children.

Berlusconi, 76, has in the past identified Angelino Alfano as his successor, but has never shown real signs of loosening the reins. In fact, just days after Berlusconi announced last year that he would turn over the party to the younger generation , he grabbed the reins back after a court in Milan convicted him of tax fraud in October. He went on to rally his party to a close second-place finish in inconclusive February elections that led to a coalition of long-time political foes.

Now, Berlusconi faces a year of house arrest on the tax fraud conviction, if he does not opt for social service, from mid-October. A Milan appellate court also must decide the length of his political ban, expected to last from one to three years. Beyond that, Berlusconi has been sentenced to seven years in jail and handed a lifetime political ban after being convicted of paying for sex with an under-age prostitute and forcing public officials to cover it up. He has pledged to appeal that conviction. As if all that weren’t enough, he’s also under investigation in Naples for allegedly paying a rival lawmaker millions of euros to bolt a center-left government.

Putting Marina Berlusconi at the head of a renewed Forza Italia would fill a void in a political force almost entirely dependent on Berlusconi’s charisma — while also protecting his business interests, analysts say.

“There are no other people who can guarantee his business interests. He fears that if he steps back, his enemies will step in and they will destroy his business, which is a well-grounded fear,” said Giuseppe Orsina, a political scientist who this summer published a book about Berlusconi’s influence in Italy. “If we take all of this into account, Marina Berlusconi may look like the best solution for him.”

And, analysts say, installing his daughter would be a way for him to maintain control from a distance.

“He will pull the strings, because Forza Italia is a personal party. He will always be the puppeteer, even under house arrest,” D’Alimonte said. “He will be the puppeteer as long as he is alive, but he has to find someone who will be in office for him and the best person for him is his daughter.”

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