Scandalous? Sure, but that's what politics is all about

EVEN at the furthest reaches of Italy's diaspora, Silvio Berlusconi looms large.

The former prime minister, as irrepressible as his hairline, has divided expatriates voting here in an election marred by personal slurs and dirty tricks.

References to the perma-tanned politician were dropped from campaign material for his centre-right candidates in Australia, which is part of the Italian parliamentary electorate of Africa, Asia, Oceania and Antarctica.

Perhaps it had something to do with lurid allegations surrounding his sex life and multiple fraud trials.

''No, it is nothing to do with that,'' said his Sydney-based candidate, Teresa Todaro-Restifa. ''The 'bunga bunga' allegations are so outrageous it is impossible. Yes, he does like beautiful women, but who doesn't.''

There are about 117,000 Italian voters in Australia whose postal votes could prove crucial to the outcome of the February 24-25 poll. The election is likely to be a tight tussle between Mr Berlusconi's right-wing alliance and the centre-left Democratic Party led by Pier-Luigi Bersani.

But the local contest is a long way from la bella vita.

A local campaign manager for the Democratic Party, Francesco Raco, had this to say about Ms Todaro-Restifa: ''The way she speaks is very simple. She is not very knowledgeable.''

Ms Todaro-Restifa responded: ''I can assure you I have more culture than all of them put together.''

She added that she was proud to support Mr Berlusconi.

''I am not ashamed and I am not embarrassed. I admire his way of doing politics.''

An Italian political expert, Gaetano Rando, from the University of Wollongong, said Italian-Australians traditionally favoured centre-left candidates.

But many expatriates would likely still vote for Mr Berlusconi. ''It seems to be something of an Italian mindset, where if you are good at getting away with something you desire to be admired.''

Giuseppe Musso, president of Comites NSW, which represents Italian expatriates, said the outcome of the election would be close, particularly in the senate. He gave Mr Berlusconi a low personal approval of 5.5 out of 10.

But political misdeeds are all relative.

''What's happening now in the Independent Commission against Corruption in NSW leaves some of the Italian scandals for dead,'' he said.

This story Scandalous? Sure, but that's what politics is all about first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.