With Silvio Berlusconi at least temporarily out of the prime minister’s seat, speculation is rife as to whether the media tycoon will remain in politics or shrug off his seven month stint as head of government and refocus his attention on his business empire.

Popular opinion in Italy sees him going back to business. In a poll conducted by daily La Repubblica, 34.7% of those quizzed predicted that Berlusconi will abandon politics to head his Fininvest conglom again. Conversely, 28.7% said he will head up the country’s new government, while 18.3% saw him staying in politics as leader of Forza Italia, but not as prime minister.

Berlusconi himself-along with the majority of Italy’s political observers-has given no indication that he intends to relinquish the government reigns he took hold of when he swept to victory in last March’s elections.

The media magnate resigned on Dec. 22 after the Northern League, his main coalition partner, withdrew its support for the five-party coalition government appointed in May.

Since then, Burlusconi, whose resignation has plunged Italy deep into political crisis, has piled on the pressure for a snap general election.

The outgoing prime minister continues to pursue the line that popular support hasn’t changed since the voters placed him in power, and that no treasonous force from within the government can stymie the people’s choice.

President Oscar Luigi Scalfaro, however, is the arbiter in Italy’s worst political crisis in nearly two decades, and must decide whether to cede to Berlusconi’s demand for an early election or appoint a new prime minister to head the country’s 54th government since World War II.

Meanwhile, the upheaval that followed Berlusconi’s exit from office has had little immediate effect on the Fininvest landscape.

The biggest change on the horizon is the plan to launch Fininvest’s TV interests on the stock market. Many viewed the announcement as a ploy designed to distract attention from Berlusconi when he was formally placed under investigation on corruption charges.

But Fininvest reps insist that such plans are forging ahead. The group’s communications divisions have been reorganized under the Mediaset banner, which will be quoted on the stock market by mid-1995.

In addition, the upcoming revamp of the Italo broadcasting reform law will likely mean that one of Berlusconi’s trio of private channels (along with one of pubcaster RAI’s webs) will eventually be sold off.

The most likely arm of Fininvest’s TV interests to be severed is Rete 4, which boasts an unapologetically pro-Berlusconi newscast.

Political forces opposing the idea of snap general elections are concerned that Fininvest webs, and the slew of nationally popular TV stars under contract to them, will once again be brought into play to have Berlusconi reinstated.

Rete 4 anchorman Emilio Fede has begun a campaign encouraging viewers to light a candle in their windows as a sign of their faith in a government run by Berlusconi. Fede’s roving news team is obligingly supplying the candles.

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