Berlusconi's political life

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Silvio Berlusconi entered politics in 1994 as founder of the center-right Forza Italia (Go Italy) party, and before the 2008 general election, he launched the new political party People of Freedom in February, which merged Forza Italia with National Alliance and other liberal and conservative parties.

Berlusconi's rise in the political arena was extremely rapid. He was elected prime minister following the March 1994 elections, when Forza Italia gained a relative majority a mere three months after having been officially established.

He formed the first right-wing administration in 34 years. However, his cabinet collapsed after seven months from internal disagreements in the center-right coalition.

In the 1996 elections, he ran for prime minister again but was defeated by center-left candidate Romano Prodi. From 1996 to 2001 he was the leader of the parliamentary opposition.

In the 2001 elections, he was again the center-right candidate for prime minister and won against the center-left candidate Francesco Rutelli. Berlusconi then led the only Italian government in the last 50 years to last a full five-year term, but he lost the April 2006 general election to Prodi, whose government collapsed in January after 20 months in power.

During the election campaign, Berlusconi pledged to take economic and social reforms to stimulate the sluggish economy and ensure security for citizens, but he was criticized of failing to fulfill his promises during his second term.

In addition to being a star politician, Berlusconi is the founder and main shareholder of Fininvest, one of the 10 largest privately-owned Italian companies, which operate in media and finance. He owns three of the seven national television channels, which account for nearly half the Italian TV market, as well as some of the country's most important newspapers.

According to Forbes magazine, Berlusconi is Italy's third-richest person, with personal assets worth US$9.4 billion in 2008, making him the world's 90th-richest person.

After Berlusconi's election as prime minister in 2001, the left accused him of also abusing his position as premier to control the publicly owned RAI TV channels.

In 2008, Berlusconi won his third term as Italy's prime minister after defeating former Rome mayor Walter Veltroni in the general election.

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