Bearing ample evidence of the nips, tucks and hair transplants that have reversed the march of time, Silvio Berlusconi beamed to supporters on Sunday as he cast his vote in Italy’s closely-watched election.
The three-times prime minister swept into a voting station in his hometown of Milan sporting a smart dark suit with a winter jacket slung over his shoulders.
Then there was a surprise. A young woman suddenly leapt onto a table and bared her breasts, the words “Berlusconi, you’re past your sell-by date,” written across her chest.
Yelling at the billionaire businessman in Italian and English, she was carted off by police.
She turned out to be a Femen activist, but she may have reminded Mr Berlusconi of old times.
The 81-year-old was forced out of office seven years ago amid an economic crisis and alleged dalliances with barely-clothed young women at so-called “bunga bunga” parties.
Trials relating to those risque gatherings, in which he is accused of bribing the actresses and starlets to give false testimony in court, are still ongoing.
But in spite of all the scandals that have befallen him in the last decade, Mr Berlusconi has managed to manoeuvre himself into the position of power broker in this election, the first since 2013.
He is at the helm of an uneasy alliance that he has stitched together between his own party, Forza Italia, the anti-immigrant, anti-euro League and two smaller Right-wing parties.
The last polls to be published before the election suggested they will win around 35 per cent of the vote – more than any other political force.
A fraud conviction and ban on public office means the octogenarian billionaire is not standing for prime minister himself, but he has indicated that when the ban expires next year, he will have his sights set on the job once again. Governments in Italy come and go so frequently that he might just have a chance.
In the meantime, he has nominated Antonio Tajani, currently the president of the European Parliament, as his candidate for premier.
Millions of Italians went to the polls after a campaign marked by violence between neo-fascists and Leftists and angry rhetoric between political leaders.
The country is split three-ways – while the centre-Right alliance is expected to win a third of the vote, around 28 per cent of votes will go to the anti-establishment Five Star Party and around 22-24 per cent to the governing Democratic Party, polls suggested.
No party will reach the 40 per cent of votes needed to form a government outright so there are likely to be weeks of tortuous haggling between the parties to cobble together an administration.
The permutations are endless in such a fractured political landscape but one of the more likely includes Silvio Berlusconi allying with the centre-Left Democratic Party of Matteo Renzi – the option that would be most palatable to the EU and financial markets because it would shut out populist parties.
Other scenarios include a coalition between the Democratic Party, Five Star and a small Left-wing party called Free and Equal, or a populist alliance between Five Star, The League, and the hard-Right Brothers of Italy.
If there is total deadlock and none of the parties can agree to work together, then Italy’s president could decide to nominate a short-term technocrat government and the country would head to fresh elections.
“I voted for the Democratic Party,” said Fernanda Isidori, 70, a psychoanalyst, as she left a voting station in a school in central Rome.
“I don’t like everything they’ve done, but it is essential that we stop the wave of fascism and populism that is sweeping the country. There are extremely dangerous populists on both the Right and in the Five Star Movement.”
If the Five Star movement do win the lion’s share of the vote but then get blocked from power by an alliance scrambled together by the traditional parties of the Right and Left, there is likely to be great anger among their millions of supporters.
“We are the most popular party in the country so we should be given the mandate to form a government,” said Vincenzo Buonincontro, a Five Star official.
“It is true that we are against alliances, but I think (party leader) Luigi di Maio would go to other parties and appeal to them to support our policies.”
Italian election polls show that the centre-right have a decent lead
The key issues have been the state of the economy, which is slowly spluttering back to life but not fast enough to make a difference to many Italians, and immigration.
There is widespread anger and resentment that under Democratic Party governments, more than 600,000 desperate migrants and refugees have been rescued in the Mediterranean and brought to Italy, where many remain.
Several of the main parties – Forza Italia, The League and Five Star – advocate sending economic migrants back to their home countries.
Mr Berlusconi has called the presence of the migrants a “social time bomb” and has claimed he would endeavour to send back half a million if elected.
Click Here: Rugby league Jerseys