Berlusconi comeback a longshot

Prodi picks up political support

The political comeback of Silvio Berlusconi, Italy’s most successful media tycoon, now appears to be a longshot as Romano Prodi, who resigned as prime minister last week, picked up much needed political support over the weekend and vowed to return to office, setting the stage for a crucial vote of confidence on his center-left government later this week.

Prodi resigned suddenly after his government lost a contentious Senate vote on funding troops in Afghanistan.

The abrupt collapse of the Prodi government delighted Berlusconi’s center-right coalition and stockholders in Berlusconi’s Mediaset. Shares in the poorly performing stock shot up the following day, outperforming the market, as investors hoped Prodi’s loss would mean a revote and possible, thought rather unlikely, return to power for Berlusconi.

Prodi, however, appears to have weathered the storm. Italian media reported over the weekend that Prodi had won the support of a senator once in Berlusconi’s camp, extending his fragile majority in parliament.

President Giorgio Napolitano asked Prodi to return to parliament next week and test his slim three-vote lead by asking for a vote of confidence on his government.

While Prodi appears to have survived this round, political observers expect his government will emerge weakened — which could greatly aid Berlusconi’s business interests.

For one thing, analysts now fully expect that Prodi will have to water down a daring media reform bill intended to introduce more competition to Italy’s TV market. It calls for a cap on TV ad revenues and would force Mediaset and state pubcaster RAI to shuttle one terrestrial channel to the digital spectrum; Mediaset, which has repeatedly attacked the plan as a “political vendetta,” claims the bill would wipe more than $1 billion off Mediaset’s books.

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