Italy’s Berlusconi, ‘the knight’ known for scandals, dies at 86

Silvio Berlusconi, the tycoon-turned-politician and former Italian prime minister, has died in Milan at the age of 86.

The right-wing leader, born in Milan on September 29, 1936, was widely known for his financial and sex scandals, but also transformed Italian politics. His dominance over the electoral sphere influenced the views of a generation of Italians.

Often compared with former US President Donald Trump, Berlusconi made his first fortune in real estate and construction, then slowly expanded, notably to the world of mass media.

Between the late 1970s and 1980s, he built a media empire. It included a publishing house and popular cable TV network, Mediaset, that was recognised as the biggest competitor to Italy’s state-owned television.

In 1986, he bought the popular AC Milan football team, saving it from certain bankruptcy.

It was not until 1994, however, that “the Knight” – Berlusconi’s popular nickname, entered the realm of Italian politics.

With the foundation of a new right-wing party, Forza Italia (Go Italy), a new era of Italian politics began, and Berlusconi secured his first election as prime minister that same year.

“He became the symbol of a new historical phase for Italy, where politics are no longer shaped by parties, but by single, strong characters,” said Giovanni Orsina, director of Luiss School of Government in Rome.

“Berlusconi is a product of Italian commercial TV’s golden age.”

Although Berlusconi’s first mandate only lasted a year, as he was accused of fraud and criticised for his control of Italian media, he maintained his political power.

His promises of economic growth attracted new voters, which led him to win elections again in 2001 and 2008.
He remained in power until the end of 2011, when he stepped down after losing parliament’s trust following a highly-publicised sex scandal.

After entering politics, Berlusconi was regular fodder for Italy’s tabloids reporting on his more than 20 trials for abuse of power, financial fraud and rumours about lewd parties at his private villa just outside Milan.

The most closely followed case dates back to February 2011, when he was accused of soliciting sex from a 17-year-old Egyptian sex worker.

He was heavily criticised for backing a law that allowed politicians to escape trials while in office.

The episode damaged Berlusconi’s popularity, and he was later replaced by a series of temporary technocratic governments.


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