Berlusconi Italys comeback king on ropes
Rome (AFP) - Silvio Berlusconi, the billionaire media mogul who has dominated Italian politics for more than two decades, suffered a humiliating setback in Sunday's election by coming second to the far-right League party in an alliance he expected to dominate.
The alliance is set to win the most votes but fall short of an overall majority and Berlusconi's promise to rein in populist forces rings hollow after a surge in support from voters disillusioned with traditional politics.
"The Berlusconi 'miracle' has failed," the left-wing daily La Repubblica decreed on Monday.
The result opens the prospect of Berlusconi playing second fiddle to League leader Matteo Salvini.
Despite sex scandals, serial gaffes and legal woes, the flamboyant tycoon had made an astonishing return from political oblivion to the political frontline aged 81.
Although barred from public office owing to a tax fraud conviction, Berlusconi had put forward his loyal former protege, European Parliament President Antonio Tajani, as his prime ministerial nominee if he won the vote.
But that prospect now no longer appears feasible after his party's poor showing, picking up just 14.5 percent with two-thirds of votes counted, down on the roughly 18 percent predicted pre-election.
While Berlusconi largely avoided the big campaign rallies and only appeared once with his coalition allies in the run-up to the vote, he was a constant figure on television, radio and in newspapers, a number of which he owns through his Fininvest empire.
The one-time cruise ship crooner who has served as prime minister three times and once owned AC Milan football club, has had a tumultuous love affair with Italian politics, clinching his first election victory in 1994.
With his oiled-back hair and winning smile, he has ruled Italy for more than nine years in total.
He became renowned around the world for his buffoonish gaffes and a colourful private life epitomised by his notorious "bunga bunga" sex parties.
Today his smile is noticeably a little frozen, and the facelifts and make-up have left the veteran leader somewhat transformed.
But his sense of humour is still intact.
"I'm like a good wine, with age, I only improve, now I'm perfect," he tweeted recently.
- Football glory -
Berlusconi was born in 1936 in Milan to a bank employee father and a housewife mother who always staunchly defended her son's virtues.
The young Berlusconi was a born entertainer.