STRASBOURG, France (AP) — Silvio Berlusconi says he's hopeful the European Court of Human Rights will agree that Italy violated his rights by barring him from public office — but says he'll participate in Italy's upcoming electoral campaign regardless.
The Strasbourg, France-based court was holding a first appeal hearing Wednesday for the 81-year-old, three-time Italian premier, who has emerged from the political shadows in the run-up to the 2018 elections.
"I hope the court quickly takes up my appeal," Berlusconi told La Repubblica on Wednesday. "But my role in the next campaign is clear: Independent of my ability to run, I will be campaigning for the center right to lead the country."
Berlusconi has asked Italy's president to delay holding general elections until late spring in hopes that the court will make a decision in time that would allow him to run on his Forza Italia ticket. A decision isn't expected for several months.
Berlusconi in 2013 was stripped of his Senate seat and barred from holding public office following a tax fraud conviction. A law passed in 2012 prevented anyone sentenced to more than two years in prison from holding or running for public office for at least six years.
Berlusconi challenged the ban first in Italy and then at the European court, arguing among other things that being stripped from office amounted to retroactive punishment, since the tax fraud case concerned crimes purportedly committed prior to 2012.
In the years that he has been out of office, Berlusconi has continued to run his Forza Italia party and wield political weight in the center-right, despite a long recovery from heart surgery.
The center-right coalition, which includes the anti-immigrant Northern League and a smaller like-minded party, currently leads the polls with about 33 percent of the vote, with the ruling Democratic Party and its center-left allies taking about 30 percent. The anti-establishment 5-Star Movement has the most support of any single party, with about 28 percent, but has ruled out forming coalitions, which will likely hurt its aspirations of trying to win national office for the first time.