Three-time Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi is hopeful the European Court of Human Rights will agree Italy violated his rights by barring him from public office, but will join in the electoral campaign regardless.
The Strasbourg-based court held a first appeal hearing today for the 81-year-old, barred from public office after a tax fraud conviction, who emerged from the political shadows in the run-up to the 2018 elections.
Mr Berlusconi said he hopes the court will take up his appeal quickly.
"But my role in the next campaign is clear: Independent of my ability to run, I will be campaigning for the centre-right to lead the country," he said.
Mr Berlusconi asked Italy’s president to delay holding general elections until late spring in the hope that the court will make a decision in time allowing him to run on his Forza Italia ticket. A decision is not expected for several months.
In 2013, he was stripped of his Senate seat and barred from holding public office following his 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.
Mr Berlusconi challenged the ban first in Italy and then at the European court.
He argued 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 his years out of office, Mr Berlusconi continued to run his Forza Italia party and wield political weight in the centre-right, despite a long recovery from heart surgery.
The centre-right coalition, which includes the anti-immigrant Northern League and a smaller like-minded party, leads the polls with about 33% of the vote, with the ruling Democratic Party and its centre-left allies taking about 30%.
The anti-establishment 5-Star Movement has the most support of any single party, with about 28% but ruled out forming coalitions. This is likely to hurt its aspirations of trying to win national office for the first time.