Silvio Berlusconi has launched his bid to become Italian prime minister for a third time.
Berlusconi dismissed the left as high-taxing Marxists
The media tycoon - Italy's richest man - told supporters in Milan that the left had brought Italy to its knees.
Elections were set for 13 and 14 April after the centre-left government of Romano Prodi collapsed last month.
Opinion polls suggest Mr Berlusconi will attract enough votes to win. His main challenge looks set to come from Rome mayor Walter Veltroni.
Mr Berlusconi, 71, launched his campaign with an attack on his political rivals, labelling them Marxists who were heavy-handed on tax matters, lax on illegal immigration and weak on crime.
"The left brought Italy to its knees," Mr Berlusconi. "We say, 'Italy, pick yourself up!"
Mr Berlusconi also stressed his conservative stance on home life, saying he believed in a family based on love between a man and a woman and in values based on Europe's Christian heritage.
And he vowed to complete a reform programme launched during his last period in office.
Mr Berlusconi is urging centre-right parties to unite under a new grouping, named "People of Freedom", to contest the elections.
Several have already agreed to run under this banner, including the National Alliance. He first became prime minister in 1994, but his government collapsed after just seven months.
He returned in 2001 and stayed in office - despite a number of court battles over alleged corruption - until he lost elections to Mr Prodi in 2006.