Berlusconi Is Said to Want 82-Year-Old Ally as Italian Premier

(Bloomberg) -- Silvio Berlusconi wants his right-hand man Gianni Letta to be considered for the role of prime minister if his center-right coalition wins next month’s election, according to senior officials in his Forza Italia party.

The 82-year-old Letta, who has always worked behind the scenes, is one potential Berlusconi candidate to lead the next government alongside European Parliament President Antonio Tajani, 64, according to three officials in the former premier’s party who declined to be named discussing strategy.

Berlusconi Is Said to Want 82-Year-Old Ally as Italian Premier

Berlusconi, 81, sees Letta as an experienced operator who could manage relations with Forza Italia’s fractious ally, Matteo Salvini, of the anti-migrant, euroskeptic Northern League, one of the people said. A press officer for Forza Italia declined to comment.

Salvini, 44, has been challenging Berlusconi on issues from euro membership to pension reform as opinion polls show their coalition is likely to be the biggest bloc after the March 4 vote. Still, with no group set to win a working majority, Italy’s next leader could be decided by horse-trading among the parties.

Berlusconi and Salvini have agreed that if their coalition wins, the party with the most votes will get to suggest a premier to President Sergio Mattarella. It’s then up to Mattarella to decide who to forward for a confidence vote in both houses of parliament.

Former TV Presenter

Berlusconi described Letta as “God’s gift to Italy” in 2004, calling him “a tireless worker, he constitutes the cement of this coalition.” At the time, Berlusconi headed a coalition government which included the Northern League and the right-wing National Alliance. Letta’s delicate missions have included secret talks to free Italian hostages in Iraq.

A former newspaper editor, presenter on Berlusconi’s television networks, and international adviser to Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Letta has served as undersecretary in the premier’s office in each of the billionaire’s governments. Berlusconi picked Letta, the uncle of ex-premier Enrico Letta, as an unsuccessful candidate for the Italian presidency in 2006. La Stampa first reported that Letta was under consideration by Berlusconi last week

Berlusconi said last week that Tajani would be “an excellent solution” as premier if his coalition wins. Berlusconi himself is banned from holding public office until next year because of a 2013 tax-fraud conviction.

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