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In Italian elections, Berlusconi's charisma is winning

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Already elected twice, the wealthy media magnate and his center-right People of Freedom alliance are favored to win on Sunday despite a string of pending corruption charges. Not even the Obama of Italy – Walter Veltroni, a center-left former mayor of Rome who adopted the US candidate's "Yes We Can!" motto and is nearly 20 years Berlusconi's junior – has been able to slow the billionaire's momentum.

"Berlusconi is someone who has worked on TV and knows how to play the celebrity game. He also has enough money to wear what he wants and always look young and have women around him to attract young voters," says Alexander Stille, who harshly critiqued Berlusconi's leadership in his acclaimed book, "The Sack of Rome." "The interests he represents are so powerful – they mix entertainment, sports, television, and politics – that until Italians don't figure out this conflict of interest, he can come back again and again."

What Italians hope he can fix

Although Veltroni's and Berlusconi's manifestos and policies are not radically different, Berlusconi is considered the businessman who can save Italy, says Mr. Severgnini.

There are many problems that Italians would like fixed: huge public debt, low growth, and declining economic competitiveness, to mention a few. In 2007, for example, public debt was at 104 percent of annual gross domestic product – compared with an average 60 percent for other EU countries. That means that the state has to pay up to €70 billion ($110 billion) annually in interest – at a yearly cost of €1,150 euros ($1,800) per taxpayer.

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