Italian election: Silvio Berlusconi resorts to buying votes with promise of a cash refund on a controversial tax

Centre-left opponents warn of return to Italy’s dark days if ex-premier wins general election

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The Independent Online

With three weeks to go until the general election, Silvio Berlusconi has shamelessly resorted to buying voters with a cash refund on a controversial tax introduced by outgoing premier Mario Monti.

Mr Berlusconi, whose right-wing alliance has risen in the polls, but still lags behind the centre-left, had been promising for several days to make a “shock proposal”.

He told a meeting of his PDL (People of Freedom) party in Milan yesterday, that he would scrap the unpopular Imu property tax on first homes, and phase out the Irap business tax within five years, were his right-wing coalition returned to power. To loud cheers he promised that payments of Imu already made would be refunded in the post.

The plan, if enacted, would cost the economy €4 billion. Mr Berlusconi said this could be recouped by cuts in public spending. Many public services are already suffering from austerity measures, as Italy struggles to reduce its colossal €2 trillion public debt.

Technocrat premier Mario Monti, who introduced the Imu tax, noted: "Berlusconi has governed for years and has never kept any of his promises.”

Anna Finocchiaro, the centre-left Democratic Party’s leader in the Senate, said on Twitter: “Shock proposal from Il Cavaliere? Please…the same dog’s dinner of demagoguery, impossible promises and lies.”

Politic pundit James Walston of the American University in Rome, said: "This smacks of desperation. And he's announced it too soon. Within three weeks, people will have picked holes in the plan."

Mr Berlusconi was sentenced to four years in prison in October for tax fraud, which he is appealing. He is also fighting sex and abuse of office charges in a separate case.