Silvio Berlusconi may be one of Italy's most popular politicians, but the premier's approval ratings are sinking fast with at least one Italian — his wife.
Veronica Lario publicly voiced her rage over reports that Berlusconi's party was lining up a troupe of TV showgirls and starlets as candidates for June's European Parliament elections.
Berlusconi contended the reported plans were a fabrication of the opposition and left-leaning media. When the official list of candidates was presented Wednesday, one of the reported names — a former Miss Italy contestant — was included, though some other names that had circulated were not.
Berlusconi already has faced trouble at home and widespread criticism for flirting with women and filling his political ranks with female stars, including a Cabinet minister.
Two years ago, Lario received a quick and public apology from Berlusconi when she wrote to a newspaper complaining about a compliment her husband had paid to TV starlet Mara Carfagna, now the minister for equal opportunities.
Late Tuesday, Lario released a statement to the ANSA news agency, slamming the party's alleged election plans as "shameless rubbish" that offended her, her children and women in general.
"Somebody has written that this is all for the entertainment of the emperor," she said. "I agree. What emerges from the newspapers is shameless rubbish, all in the name of power."
'Impudence and shamelessness'
Lario's public rage came after days of debate in which even Berlusconi's allies raised eyebrows over reports by left-leaning newspapers that the party's candidates could include a Big Brother contestant as well as actresses and models.
Alessandra Mussolini, a right-wing politician, dictator Benito Mussolini's granddaughter and a former actress herself, ironically suggested the leading coalition should also have male models run for office as a measure of fairness.
Lario was less subtle in her criticism.
"The impudence and shamelessness of power offends the credibility of all (women), damages women in general and especially those who have always struggled to defend their rights," Lario said.
"I want to make clear that my children and I are victims and not accomplices in this situation. We must bear it and it causes us to suffer," she told ANSA.
Lario, also a former actress, is Berlusconi's second wife and the couple have three children.
Attempts to reach her were not successful.
Rising political stars?
Among the TV starlets to be included in the list was Barbara Matera, an ex-Miss Italy contestant and model, while two other women — a former Big Brother contestant and a TV-movie actress — were not included.
Party spokesman Daniele Capezzone said the reports surfaced after the women attended a recent crash course on politics held at Freedom People headquarters in Rome, with Berlusconi and other top government officials as teachers.
"The party organized a course for dozens and dozens of people, many with extraordinary CVs and academic experiences, and only a few with a background in show business," he said in a telephone interview.
Speaking during a visit to Warsaw, Poland, Berlusconi told reporters that he was sorry that Lario "believed what the papers said."
In Tuesday's statement to ANSA, Lario also reacted to media reports that the premier had attended the late-night birthday party of an 18-year-old woman in Naples.
"It surprised me very much," she said. "Also because he never came to the 18th of any of his children, even though he was invited."
Berlusconi said Wednesday that since he happened to be in Naples, he quickly dropped by "to raise a glass" in honor of the 18-year-old, who he said is a friend's daughter.