Protege says Berlusconi best placed to win 2013 vote

Flamboyant Italian ex-leader Silvio Berlusconi's protege said on Sunday he believes his former boss is best placed to win the next general election set for early 2013.

Speculation is running high that the billionaire tycoon, who stepped down in November amid a series of scandals as the economy crashed, is planning to announce his political comeback.

Berlusconi "is the strongest to win again," said Angelino Alfano, the head of the People of Freedom (PDL) party.

Alfano, a former justice minister, had said earlier this month that there was a wave of support for Berlusconi to run in the April 2013 election, when he will be 76 years old.

Berlusconi had anointed Alfano as leader of the centre-right PDL to fight next year's election when current Prime Minister Mario Monti stands down, but the younger man said he did not begrudge having to make way for his mentor.

"Silvio Berlusconi gave me the chance to realise my dream," he said. "People say I might be disappointed (by Berlusconi's eventual return) but I believe in a system where personal ambition does not prevail over values."

Berlusconi has not formally announced his candidacy however, and he cancelled a public appearance at the last-minute on Friday where he had been tipped to announce his comeback.

A self-made billionaire, Berlusconi has faced charges including corruption, tax fraud, false accounting and illegally financing political parties and having sex with a teenage nightclub dancer.

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