MILAN Former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi pledged to relaunch his Forza Italia party this year and force out the centre-left government of Matteo Renzi, according to an interview with daily Il Giornale on Saturday.
Berlusconi, 79, has kept a low profile since he was convicted of tax evasion and banned from public office in 2013, but promised to return to the front lines of Italian politics and strengthen his party, which he said was weakened by his absence.
This year "will be the year of the battle against the regime of the left which suspended democracy", Berlusconi told the paper, referring to Renzi, who took office in an internal power struggle within his Democratic Party (PD) but has yet to win a parliamentary election.
Berlusconi called for parliament to be dissolved and new elections, adding his own ousting was "unconstitutional".
The media magnate won three national elections over 14 years before he was hamstrung by a tax fraud conviction and sex scandals.
He dismissed suggestions of friction between Forza Italia and the other two parties of the centre right, the anti-immigrant Northern League and the far-right Brothers of Italy, adding the three would present a united front in upcoming mayoral elections this year in Rome, Milan, Naples and Bologna.
The centre-right has often been divided since shortly after a 2013 parliamentary election. The League has maintained hardline opposition to the government while Berlusconi has wavered between modest opposition and collaboration with Renzi.
If all three centre-right parties joined forces, according to opinion polls, they could be a threat to Renzi's PD, which is the only major party on the centre-left.
The next parliamentary election is due in 2018, but commentators speculate it could come earlier as a result of instability in Renzi's ruling coalition.
"My commitment is to take Forza Italia back to above 20 percent so that the centre-right can win the elections at the first round, surpassing 40 percent," Berlusconi said.
A new electoral law introduced by Renzi requires a run-off ballot between the two largest parties if none obtain 40 percent of votes in the first round.
(Reporting by Agnieszka Flak; editing by Gavin Jones and Digby Lidstone)
Our top photos from the last 24 hours.