In any other country, Silvio Berlusconi would have been a mortally wounded candidate. He is appealing a conviction for tax fraud, facing trial on charges of prostitution with a minor, and the last time he was in office in 2011, he stepped down amid fear that his clumsy handling of the economy would cause the country to collapse.

But in Italy, it turns out, none of those factors are fatal. After a two-month campaign in which the 76-year-old media mogul sometimes appeared with his 27-year-old fiancee, Berlusconi raked in enough votes to nearly put him in charge of the country once again. For more than 10 hours of vote counting Monday, the former prime minister was neck-and-neck with his closest rival. The balloting ultimately left him with 29.2 percent of the vote in the lower house of parliament—just 0.4 percent behind the center-left candidate, Pier Luigi Bersani—and with enough support in the Senate to deny his opponent the majority he would need to easily form a government.