Silvio Berlusconi plays the bunga bunga card as he rallies support to become Italy’s next president

Silvio Berlusconi is embracing rather than downplaying his bunga bunga past as he calls up Italian MPs in the hope of convincing them to back him to become the country’s next president.

The 85-year-old former prime minister is introducing himself as “the bunga bunga guy” as he embarks on an intense round of contacting independent MPs ahead of the vote later this month.

He can count on around 450 votes from politicians on the Right of Italian politics but will still need dozens of independents to throw their weight behind him if he is to have a chance of reaching the 505 votes required to make him president after the third round of voting.

Despite having a conviction for tax fraud and a reputation for scandals, multiple faux pas and ill-judged gags involving heads of state such as Barack Obama and Angela Merkel, he hopes to succeed Sergio Mattarella, the current president, who is due to step down after a seven-year mandate.

Voting begins on January 24, with the other high-profile candidate likely to be Mario Draghi, the current prime minister.

Women at one of the alleged bunga bunga sex parties. Similar photos were found on laptops and phones belonging to female guests, which were seized by prosecutors

“He introduced himself and said ‘I’m the bunga bunga guy’, then he reminded me of all that had happened to him in the past, all his legal troubles,” said Bianca Laura Granato, one of the independent MPs whom the billionaire media tycoon called. “He was testing the water for his candidacy as president.”

In a call to another MP, Cristian Romaniello, he reportedly said: “Ciao Cristian, are you interested in joining the bunga bunga party?”

“At first I thought it was someone imitating him but after a bit I understood that it was really him,” said Mr Romaniello. “He spoke for a couple of minutes, about Europe, about the international situation. He made a couple of jokes, one about forming a bunga bunga party.”

The phrase bunga bunga originates from a joke that Mr Berlusconi once told, reportedly after hearing it from the former Libyan dictator Muammar Gadaffi, about a bunch of his opponents from the Left having to choose between death and sexual assault after being captured by a fictitious African tribe.

Karima El Mahroug, a dancer who went by the name of Ruby the Heart Stealer

Credit: AFP

It has become shorthand for the alleged sex parties that Mr Berlusconi held at his mansion near Milan while serving as prime minister, in which showgirls and starlets performed stripteases and danced around a statue of Priapus, the god of fertility. 

More than a decade after they took place, Mr Berlusconi is still on trial for allegedly bribing the young women to lie to investigators about the nature of the parties. 

One of them was a teenage Moroccan belly dancer, Karima El Mahroug, who went by the name of Ruby the Heart Stealer.

Supporters of Mr Berlusconi’s bid for the presidency took out a full-page ad in Il Giornale, a newspaper that his family owns.

Beneath a photo of Mr Berlusconi as a much younger man, they described him as “a good and generous person” who has five children and 15 grandchildren. He is “a friend of everyone, an enemy of no-one,” the ad proclaimed.

On the international front, the advertisement described him as “the most appreciated and applauded (eight minutes) Western leader in the history of the American Congress.”

He was also the man, supposedly, “who ended the Cold War” thanks to his efforts to reconcile former US President George W. Bush and Valdimir Putin in 2002.

Matteo Salvini, the head of the hard-Right League party and a member of the current coalition, said on Thursday that the entire centre-Right would support Mr Berlusconi’s candidacy.

“The centre-Right is firm and unanimous in its support for Berlusconi,” Mr Salvini said in a statement.

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