Berlusconi's Future in Parliament
A Senate vote has stripped four-time Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi of his seat in parliament due to a tax fraud conviction, possibly marking a watershed in the career of the leader who has dominated Italian politics for two decades.
Silvio Berlusconi said on Saturday he may no longer back Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta but would not be able to bring down the government.
The 77-year-old billionaire' s comments came after Friday's defection of a group led by Interior Minister Angelino Alfano, former secretary of his People of Freedom party, which defied Berlusconi and formed a group that has pledged to remain in Letta's coalition government. Full story: www.reuters.com
The Italian government is now stronger and more cohesive after Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia party quit the coalition, Prime Minister Enrico Letta told reporters this morning.
Overnight, Letta's government survived a confidence vote with a comfortable majority, bolstered by votes from rebel centre-right lawmakers who split with Berlusconi to support the government.
Estimated time of the vote to expel Berlusconi from parliament has been moved forward to 1700 Rome time, from 1900. That's 1600 GMT, 1100 ET
Bond markets believe Prime Minister Enrico Letta's assertion his government is stronger after Berlusconi's exit from the coalition - Italy's implied borrowing costs dropped this morning
Decadenza is the Italian word being used for today's vote. It has the double meaning of decadence and forfeiture. One fits the man, the other the situation.
Another interesting aspect of Berlusconi's expulsion, which underlines the weirdness of Italian politics, is that it means that soon the leaders of Italy's three main parties will all be outside parliament. Those are Berlusconi, Beppe Grillo, the head of the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement, and Florence mayor Matteo Renzi, who seems virtually certain to become head of the centre-left Democratic Party in a primary election next month. And none of these has much of a stake in preserving government stability
One of the latest complaints of Berlusconi's supporters is that the vote on his expulsion will be an open vote as opposed to a secret one. Votes on individuals are normally secret. They say the rules were changed by the leaders of the anti-Berlusconi parties to ensure that rebels in their ranks did not vote against him being kicked out. This is one argument that even many Berlusconi critics on the left have some sympathy with.
As Gavin said, there is an odd division between personality politics and administration politics - Italy has pretty much been ruled by unelected administrative governments since Mario Monti was appointed prime minister at the height of the euro zone crisis in November 2011.
This is undoubtedly undemocratic, but it's also true that the drama of personality politics is an impediment to getting reforms through the Italian parliament. Meanwhile, a recession has dragged on for over two years and unemployment rates are at a record highs.
Berlusconi also contests today's vote because he says the anti-corruption law should not be applied to his case. The law, passed last year, says that anyone convicted of a serious crime against the state like tax fraud cannot sit in parliament for at least six years. Berlusconi said it should not apply to him because the crime he is convicted of perpetrating took place long before the anti-corruption law was passed, and according to Italy's Constitution, laws cannot be applied retroactively.
That said, he would certainly be banned from public office as a result of his conviction, but the exact timeframe has not yet been set. The moral of the story is that even if he were not stripped of his seat on the basis of the anti-corruption law, he would have it taken away within six months anyway on the basis of the definitive court ruling.
As a point of interest: Technically, Berlusconi is not being stripped of his seat. Instead, parliament is not validating his April election to the Senate.
National anthem booms out as Silvio Berlusconi appears to speak outside his Rome residence
Group of Berlusconi supporters holding sights reading "It's a coup d'etat" and "Today democracy expires" at protest against impending vote to expel centre-right leader from parliament
Shouldn't he be under house arrest, or doing community service? How long before he has to serve his sentence? The law does not seem to be equal for all in Italy despite what it says on every courthouse in the land.
it just looks surreal, really.
Berlusconi vows to continue battling in politics, even if he is outside parliament:
"We must not despair if the leader of the centre-right is not a senator any more. There are leaders of other parties who are not parliamentarians," Berlusconi told cheering supporters.
Voting is continuing. One has been made. Berlusconi will be expelled if all nine motions are rejected and when the president of the senate declares an end to the voting. Berlusconi has completed his speech and is shaking hands with his supporters.
Commentators are reluctant to write Berlusconi off - because he has surprised with spectacular comebacks several times before.
Veteran Italian political journalist Elisabetta Fiorito said this morning Berlusconi still has a chance if he capitalises on skepticism about Europe and the euro:
"I've been hearing the end of Berlusconi for 20 years, so I don't know because the man has seven lives, like cats do. I think he wants to go to elections again and if he is in the opposition and he can fight against Europe, against the German authority on Europe and Italy, he will have a chance, not to win but to conquer votes."
Berlusconi is back at the microphone again... saying he is moved by the support of the crowd.
Our reporter at the scene @CatherineHornby saw two men give a fascist salute at the end of Berlusconi's speech
But how much of a role can Berlusconi have while juggling his ongoing trials and community service?
Professor James Walston of the American University of Rome says:
"Within his conviction there was also a prohibition for him taking part in any public political activities and that is something which will be implemented but not immediately. So he will be out of parliament but he will still be in politics."
He added that it is likely that from the beginning of December the three biggest parties in Italy will be run by people who are not in parliament: Silvio Berlusconi, Beppe Grillo, and Matteo Renzi.
After attending the Berlusconi rally, I walked through central Rome and didn't spot anyone celebrating about his expulsion from parliament. I just saw groups of his supporters wandering through the town with their Forza Italia flags, looking a bit despondent.
Silvio Berlusconi has made clear he will continue to lead his Forza Italia party from outside parliament - but the expulsion exposes him to arrest in a string of other cases. Here is a summary of them:
* THE MEDIASET CASE - In August Italy's Supreme Court confirmed a conviction and jail sentence against Berlusconi for tax fraud, his first definitive conviction.
- He was found guilty of falsely recording the price paid for television rights by his Mediaset media empire to pay less tax and of using offshore accounts to create a slush fund network.
- He was sentenced to four years in jail, commuted to one year under an amnesty. He has asked to serve the sentence in community service. Berlusconi will probably begin this in 2014.
- The Milan court banned him from holding public office but this has not yet become effective.
- The Senate expelled Berlusconi over his conviction on Nov. 27.
* THE RUBY CASE - Berlusconi is appealing a June conviction for abuse of office and paying Moroccan nightclub dancer Karima El Mahroug for sex in 2010, when she was 17, below the legal age for prostitution.
- Prosecutors said El Mahroug, known by her nickname "Ruby the Heartstealer", was one of several women who received cash and gifts after attending Berlusconi's parties and allegedly taking part in "bunga bunga" erotic games.
- Berlusconi was also found guilty of trying to hide his connection with El Mahroug by pressuring police to free her from custody after she was detained over separate theft allegations.
- The court handed him a seven-year prison sentence but he will not have to serve it while the appeals process continues.
- El Mahroug has said under oath that she never had sex with Berlusconi and he denies any wrongdoing. The court said in November it had sufficient proof that sex acts took place.
* THE WIRETAP CASE
- In March a Milan court sentenced Berlusconi to a year in jail after his family's newspaper Il Giornale published a transcript of a leaked wiretap connected to a banking scandal in 2006.
- Berlusconi remains free pending an appeal and judicial sources say the charges may expire due to the statute of limitations.
- Piero Fassino, head of the main centre-left party at the time, said Il Giornale published the transcript, which contains remarks made by him, before the 2006 election to suggest that Fassino had exerted improper pressure in an attempted takeover of Banca Nazionale del Lavoro by insurer Unipol in 2005.
* THE MONDADORI CASE - The Supreme Court in September ordered Berlusconi's family holding company to pay 494 million euros ($671.4 million) in damages over the disputed purchase of publisher Mondadori.
- The case related to the 1991 battle for control of Mondadori between Fininvest and CIR and was the civil leg of a criminal trial which in 2007 found Berlusconi's former lawyer guilty of bribing a judge.
- Berlusconi's privately-held Fininvest has already paid the fine to the De Benedetti family's CIR holding, founded by his arch-rival Carlo De Benedetti. The September ruling allowed CIR to access the money which was frozen pending a final decision.
- Fininvest controls assets worth more than 5 billion euros, including Mediaset. It has denied any wrongdoing in the case.
* TTHE TARANTINI CASE - Prosecutors in the southern city of Bari have accused Berlusconi of "inducement to give false testimony" over money he allegedly paid to businessman Gianpaolo Tarantini, his wife and a former political associate to buy their silence over his use of prostitutes.
- Tarantini is accused of providing prostitutes for parties at Berlusconi's villa outside Milan. Berlusconi denies wrongdoing.
* THE VOTE-BUYING CASE
- Berlusconi has been ordered to stand trial for corruption, accused of bribing a senator to change sides in parliament to help to topple the former government of Romano Prodi.
- Prosecutors accuse Berlusconi of paying former senator Sergio De Gregorio 3 million euros to defect from the small Italy of Values party after the 2006 election and to join the centre right. Prodi's government collapsed in 2008.
- Berlusconi denies the allegations.
* THE MEDIATRADE CASE
- In March the Supreme Court upheld a ruling clearing Berlusconi of tax fraud in connection with the Mediatrade broadcasting rights unit of his Mediaset group.
- Mediatrade had been accused of acquiring film and TV rights at inflated prices to evade 10 million euros in taxes in 2004.
* THE MILLS CASE
- In February 2012 judges ended Berlusconi's trial on charges of bribing British lawyer David Mills, saying the statute of limitations had expired and a verdict could not be reached.
- Mills was convicted in 2009 of taking a $600,000 bribe in return for agreeing to withhold incriminating details about Berlusconi's business dealings when he testified in separate fraud trials against the former prime minister.
- The case against Mills was shelved the following year because the statute of limitations ran out and the British lawyer was never extradited to serve his 4-1/2 year sentence.
- Berlusconi denied paying Mills to provide untruthful court testimony.
Angela Bruno, a 67 year old pensioner from Rome who attended the rally in support of Berlusconi, told me she felt he was convicted by "politicised magistrates", and so she could not accept the decision. "This is not a democracy, it's a communist dictatorship" she said as she held a candle to show solidarity with Berlusconi.
The centre-right broke into two groups in the last fortnight: loyalists to Silvio Berlusconi and rebels who split with him to support the government. Led by Berlusconi's former protege Angelino Alfano, the new group calls itself the 'NCD', the new centre-right. Without it, Letta's government would have fallen this week.
Though the two groups have said they will be allies, they began attacking each other publicly as soon as Berlusconi was expelled.
"The tears of the members of the NCD are crocodile tears, hypocritical and false, of those who betrayed Silvio Berlusconi for a seat in government," said spokesman Luca d'Alessandro of Berlusconi's Forza Italia party.
Supporters of former Italian President Silvio Berlusconi gather outside his Rome residence ahead of a Senate vote widely expected to oust him from parliament. Rough Cut (no reporter narration).
The show must go on. Leader of rebels who split with Berlusconi to form New Centre Right Angelino Alfano says he will not respond to jibes from his former party Forza Italia. Rather than being united in grief over the expulsion of their leader - as one might expect - the two right-wing parties have been at each others throats since the moment of the expulsion.
Alfano says the Italian justice system must now be reformed without delay - words that will worry some. Reform of the Italy's sluggish and baroque justice system has often been done for political reasons in the past.
It is strange that most anger from Berlusconi's Forza Italia party is directed towards the New Centre Right that recently broke off from them, rather than the two parties who made up the bulk of those who expelled Berlusconi from the Senate: the centre-left Democratic Party and the 5-Star Movement.
To wrap up, today was a watershed moment in the career of Silvio Berlusconi, the man who has dominated Italian politics for two decades. But not in the way we might have expected.
We saw about 2,000 people protest in favour of Berlusconi outside his Rome residence. Not a small number, but far fewer than the numbers he has drawn out in the past. His Forza Italia party felt they had to justify the numbers, sending a press release that said press reports of the numbers were incorrect, that more people had attended, and that in any case buses of supporters had been prevented from reaching central Rome, so numbers should have been higher.
It betrayed a touchiness about the numbers. The vote passed off with less drama than expected, and seemed like an anti-climax in the end. The centre-right leader made a speech to his followers vowing to go on, but compared to the film footage of huge rallies of years gone by that were shown on screens to supporters in the streets, the 77-year old appeared somewhat diminished.
Berlusconi's party is still raw from a split just weeks ago, when Berlusconi's former protege Angelino Alfano broke away with a group of 60 lawmakers who wanted to continue to support the government. Berlusconi had long threatened to collapse the Enrico Letta coalition if expelled from parliament - but this betrayal left him without the numbers to do so. After the expulsion, rather than turning their rage on the parties who oppose them in government and who voted to expel their leader, members of the centre-right focused on criticising each other.
Many observers in the past have declared his career to be at an end, only to be surprised by a remarkable comeback. But a less dramatic exit than predicted shows that while he retains a core of support of between a fifth and a quarter of Italian voters, according to polls, he is far from having the clout of former years, and that after two decades his political career indeed appears to be in its twilight years.
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