Silvio Berlusconi, the idiosyncratic billionaire who has dominated much of Italy's public life since 1994, was elected to a third term as prime minister on April 14, 2008.
Rejecting the sober responsibility of the departing prime minister, Romano Prodi, Italians chose in a moment of national self-doubt a man whose dramas — the clowning and corruption scandals, his rocky relations with his wife and political partners, his growing hairline and ever browner hair — play out very much in public.
Mr. Berlusconi, 71, Italy's third-richest man and owner of media and sports businesses, has survived a number of prosecutions and repeated rejections by voters. But his 2008 campaign was more subdued than his four other runs for national office, a reflection, many experts said, of the deep problems facing Italy, where growth has again dropped nearly to zero.
In this election, his promises were more modest — lowering taxes, cutting government spending and improving the nation's ailing infrastructure — a platform not much different from that of his opponent, Walter Veltroni, the former mayor of Rome and leader of the Democratic Party.