No sex for Berlusconi until vote
Italy is chuckling at Premier Silvio Berlusconi's latest election stunt, a vow of chastity.
The press is having a field day with the pledge, claiming it as evidence that the fun-loving premier will stop at nothing in his single-handed effort to overtake his centre-left opponents by election day on April 9. Monday's Corriere della Sera said "Berlusconi has introduced a new game into his one-man reality show, the Berlusconi Chastity Countdown".
"It's not a bad concept: a premier known for discovering show girls, devoted to the family to the extent that he has created at least two, who becomes such a Christian traditionalist as to make a vow of chastity".
According to Corriere, Berlusconi was "perhaps trusting in the erratic collective national memory".
It went on to compare the premier's apparent conversion to US President George W. Bush's noted abandonment of a wild life in finding God. "But Bush has been a Born Again Christian for a quarter of a century or so. Berlusconi, on the other hand, has changed his ways at the drop of a hat".
Like other papers, Corriere noted that the no-sex pledge came after a midweek radio interview in which the premier was asked whether he had been faithful to his wives. "Frequently," he quipped in reply. Berlusconi has been married for 16 years to former film starlet Veronica Lario, whose main claim to fame before her marriage was a scantily-clad appearance in a cult film by Italian goremeister Dario Argento.
Lario has given the premier three school-age children while his first wife, Carla Dall'Oglio, produced two scions who have been groomed to take over his media empire. The premier's chastity vow came after a weekend meeting with a well-known Sardinian 'charismatic' priest, Father Massimiliano Pusceddu.
The TV preacher praised the premier for upholding family values and promised that his movement would back Berlusconi to the hilt during the election campaign. In response, the media-mogul-turned-politician said: "Dear Don Massimilano, I'll try to live up to your expectations and I promise you two and a half months of absolute sexual abstinence."
Berlusconi is waging an all-out campaign to reel in the opposition in the opinion polls, popping up regularly on shows run by state TV and his own giant media group. So far he has outgunned opponent Romano Prodi seven times over, according to Italy's airtime watchdog.
The premier has also managed to push back the date at which equal-time rules will kick in, giving him an extra two weeks to campaign and entertain on the air waves.