* Berlusconi promises to abolish property tax
* Returns after months in the background
* Polls show Italians disillusioned, undecided how to vote
By Barry Moody
ROME, Sept 17 Former Prime Minister Silvio
Berlusconi has returned to the political frontline after months
in the shadows, vowing to abolish a key tax on homes in remarks
likely to stoke investors' jitters about Italy's future after an
election next spring.
But the 75-year-old media magnate is keeping Italy guessing
about whether he will stand for prime minister at the head of
his centre-right People of Freedom (PDL) party in the election.
Berlusconi, one of the country's richest men, attacked the
policies of his successor, unelected technocrat Mario Monti, in
his first interview to Italian media since being forced from
power last November, when Italy tottered on the edge of a
Greek-style debt crisis.
Berlusconi said in the interview with his family's il
Giornale daily that the PDL would abolish a deeply unpopular tax
on homes worth 20 billion euros a year, which is a major plank
in Monti's tough austerity programme to cut Italy's huge debt.
The former European Commissioner has restored Italy's
credentials since he took over from the scandal-plagued
Berlusconi at a time when a loss of confidence had pushed the
country's borrowing costs to untenable levels.
Berlusconi, who has remained out of the limelight for
months, said the tax on the owner of every house in Italy must
be repealed in the same way his government abolished a previous
levy in 2008. Avoiding property taxes has been a constant theme
for Berlusconi who dominated Italian politics for 17 years until
his fall last November.
"The home is a pillar on which every family has the right to
base its security for the future," he said in the interview
conducted on a cruise down the Adriatic coast over the weekend
for Giornale readers, and published on Monday.
Berlusconi, whose party has slumped in popularity since he
left power, said he wanted to see which electoral law would be
used before deciding whether to stand in a poll which must be
held by next April.
He failed to turn up on Friday for a Rome rally at which
many supporters hoped he would throw his hat in the ring. Senior
party officials have repeatedly predicted he will be their
Uncertainty over how to change the voting system - so bad it
is universally called the "pigsty law" - is at the centre of
Italy's instability ahead of the elections, with the parties in
turmoil and under threat from populist movements.
An opinion poll published by the Corriere della Sera daily
on Sunday showed two-thirds of Italians, suffering in a deep
recession and fed up with traditional parties, were undecided
how to vote or intended to abstain or cast a protest ballot.
Only 36 percent intended to vote for a mainstream party.
The uncertainty has unsettled investors who are worried that
a new political government could tear up Monti's unpopular
reforms and plunge the euro zone's third largest economy back
Berlusconi attacked Genoese comic Beppe Grillo, whose
anti-establishment Five Star Movement is snapping at the heels
of the weakened PDL, saying his support would evaporate when the
public realised he was incapable of governing even a small city.
"Grillo is an extraordinary comic actor....And what is he
doing now? He is doing exactly the same trade as before."
In remarks that may be aimed at sowing confusion in the
centre left Democrat Party, Berlusconi praised young Florence
major Matteo Renzi who is challenging party leader Pier Luigi
Bersani in electoral primaries expected in November.
Berlusconi said Renzi, on the rightwing of the party, was
pursuing exactly the same policies as the PDL and would
transform the PD from a communist into a social democrat group.
A new IPR poll published on Monday showed that whereas
Monti's popularity had increased by three percent to over 50
percent - way above the political leaders - the rating for his
ministers and overall government had fallen by about the same
Many business leaders are pushing for Monti to come back as
prime minister after the election, even though he says he is not
available. One party, the centrist UDC, is campaigning on this
A suggested alternative for the foundering politicians is to
have one of Monti's technocrat ministers stand for prime
minister, but the popularity of the leading candidate, Industry
Minister Corrado Passera, fell by two points to 46 percent in