Millennium Post

Scandals work as long as you do

Media is an unforgiving mistress. Use her to smoothen your way up and she will turn you tabloid fodder on your slide down. Something Silvio Berlusconi should realise. If the former Italian premier thought revealing his engagement to an eye candy 50 years his junior would wipe off ‘bunga-bunga’ stains from voter memories and boost his image before next elections, the 76-year-old may be mistaken.

Marrying a much younger, more glamorous Carla Bruni did work for Nicolas Sarkozy, and the man had his moment. When asked by a journalist whether he thought about the presidential election when he shaved in the morning, Sarkozy had quipped, ‘Not just when I shave.’ But when he went for the top post a second time, the holiday on the yacht of media boss Vincent Bolloré, the wage rise for the presidency, the 55,000-euro watch and the ex-supermodel wife were all stacked against him by an unforgiving media. Predictably, Berlusconi’s engagement to 28-year-old Francesca Pascale, TV presenter and part of a support group called ‘Silvio, we miss you’, has made worldwide news. The media described Berlusconi’s appearance on Canale 5 — one of his television networks — as an attempt to boost falling approval rates ahead of an election early next year. His description of his new catch has also been noted with some amusement. ‘She is 28 years old, with very solid values, beautiful on the outside and even more beautiful on the inside,’ he has said. But with elections now expected in February, financial markets have reacted nervously to Berlusconi’s return to seek a fifth term as prime minister, just over a year after being forced from office at the height of the financial crisis.

Berlusconi has had a rather colourful personal life. His second wife left him in 2008, citing alleged dalliances with younger women. He is now on trial on charges of having sex with an underage woman and using his office to cover it up. And his parties – where models dressed in black tunics, white head caps and crucifix, did a Sister Act and then stripped off their nun’s habits to engage the president – were stuff of teenage fantasies and page one header stories. But what should have mattered more was how he handled the economic crisis. An able president with naughty habits makes for an interesting leader. An under-performing president with a wondrous sex life is a joke.

‘There’s no such thing as bad publicity’, often associated with Phineas T Barnum, the 19th century American showman, doesn’t hold good if scandals are all you have to offer. Berlusconi should learn to look beyond nun’s habits and get serious about Italy.
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