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Former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi could suffer mass defections from his Forza Italia group if it performs badly in next month’s EU elections, putting the very future of the group at risk, party politicians said.

Any fragmentation of Forza Italia would reinforce the position of Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini, who heads the rightist League, as undisputed leader of Italy’s conservative bloc, and potentially strengthen the government in parliament.

It would also almost certainly trigger Berlusconi’s retreat from frontline politics and open the way for a new leadership to try to rebuild the once dominant moderate, centre-right, now under siege from eurosceptic nationalist groups.

Berlusconi’s political obituary has been written repeatedly in the past, only for the 82-year-old media tycoon to defy the naysayers and reclaim a central role in Italian public life.

But with his party’s polling numbers in a prolonged decline and with his once-junior partner, the League, now Italy’s most popular party, Forza Italia veterans are growing anxious.

“For our future it’s very important that we get at least 10 percent at the European election,” said a senior Forza Italia lawmaker and former minister who asked not to be named.

“Below that psychological threshold people will jump ship and try to join up with the League. It’s Newton’s rule of gravity, larger forces pull in little ones,” he told Reuters…Continue Reading

By Ian Dei

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