''I have always competed to win'' … Silvio Berlusconi. Photo: Giuseppe Cacace
ROME: Italy woke up on Sunday to discover that politics was once again a world of bitter, personal attacks, sleight of hand, stunning egotism and shocking obsequiousness, meaning one thing: Silvio Berlusconi was back.
Overnight, the calm, grey world of Italy's technocrat Prime Minister, Mario Monti, vanished as the former EU commissioner said he was resigning because Mr Berlusconi, the 76-year-old media mogul and three-time prime minister, had withdrawn his parliamentary support.
Earlier, Mr Berlusconi had stood outside the gates of AC Milan, the football club he owns, declaring that after much soul-searching he would stand in elections, now likely in February. He boasted that, after searching far and wide, he had failed to find a successor as brilliant as himself.
Mr Monti's austerity policies, tax rises and spending cuts had dragged Italy to ''the edge of an abyss'', Mr Berlusconi said last week, before his MPs were ordered via text to walk out of key votes and his party secretary, Angelino Alfano, told parliament: ''We consider the experience of this government closed.''
Mr Berlusconi now has two months to turn up the heat on his TV channels and persuade Italians to take his side again, following his resignation in November last year in the midst of sex scandals and an economic crisis that threatened to send Italy into meltdown.
''The big question now is whether Monti himself wants to run as the head of a centrist group in the election,'' said Roberto D'Alimonte, a professor of politics at LUISS university in Rome. ''The Democratic party should win the lower house but may not get an absolute majority in the Senate so could form a coalition with a Monti-led centre. Both are pro-Europe, while Berlusconi will attack Germany, and hint that he wants, even if he doesn't explicitly call for, a pullout from the EU.''
Mr Berlusconi will argue that Mr Monti's austerity policies may have restored Italy's reputation with the markets but have raised taxes as joblessness soars.
Few believe Mr Berlusconi can actually win the election. But the master campaigner has a deep wellspring of Italian discontent to tap into, as the average family faces a tax rise of €725 ($900) this year, just as the war on tax evaders frightens the thousands of shopkeepers and small-business owners who have turned fiddling tax returns into Italy's national sport.
''I don't enter competitions to get a good result,'' Mr Berlusconi said. ''With my character, I have always competed to win.''
Guardian News & Media