Berlusconi party scoffs at possible ban
Could still lead from outside parliament16 August, 19:38
(ANSA) - Rome, August 16 - A senior official in Silvio Berlusconi's People of Freedom (PdL) party says the three-time premier will remain a force for the centre right whether he's banned from office or not. "I don't believe being in or out of parliament can keep Berlusconi from exercising leadership," said Francesco Nitto Palma, the president of the Senate justice commission, in an interview Thursday on the KlausCondicio YouTube channel. "Whoever thinks that Berlusconi's role could diminish to that of some sort of spiritual guide has another thing coming.
"He will remain a political leader in every sense of the word". The Senate is scheduled to vote in September on whether to uphold a six-year ban from office for the 76-year-old tycoon, who received his first definitive criminal conviction from the supreme Cassation Court earlier this month for fraud at his Mediaset media empire. The ruling came with a four-year jail term, commuted to one year of community service or house arrest due to an amnesty. Berlusconi has until October to decide how to spend the year. The ex-premier's lawyers have said he may ask President Giorgio Napolitano for a pardon. But even if a pardon is granted, Berlusconi could still lose his seat in the Senate. Nitto Palma said that would not faze Berlusconi or his party, while stressing, in the face of many who argue to the contrary, that "asking for a pardon does not constitute an admission of guilt". "Think of the last elections: Berlusconi didn't even run for premier and that didn't have the slightest effect on his leadership," he said, referring to the February national vote in which the PdL roared to second thanks to a storming comeback performance by its charismatic leader, ultimately winning a junior role in the current left-right government. "There are neither sentences nor anything else that could keep Berlusconi from being the prestigious leader of the centre right", Nitto Palma said.
Gaetano Quagliariello, a leading member of Berlusconi's People of Freedom (PdL) party, said in an interview with ANSA Friday that "further study" is needed on Berlusconi's bid to retain his Senate seat.
"I think there are many things to clarify and deepen, and I think it is in everyone's interest to do so," the constitutional reform minister.
The situation does not have "predetermined outcomes," he added, because of the political sensitivity and consequences of the situation.
But the head of the Senate immunity panel, whose vote is expected to sway the final vote in the upper house, said there would be no "get-out card" even if a pardon is requested and eventually granted.
Senator Dario Stefàno of the leftwing SEL party said the issue was "solely" in the hands of his colleagues that will be called to vote on the issue next month. "The final decision on whether Berlusconi will be stripped of his Senator appointment in the XVII legislature depends on the Senate Assembly," said Stefàno in an interview with ANSA.
"There can be no get-out card coming from the outside." Berlusconi's legal woes - which also include separate but not definitive convictions for sex with an underage prostitute and involvement in the publication of an illegally obtained wiretap that hurt an opponent - have not dented his popularity among the PdL faithful, who are expected to soon rally behind the banner of the retooled Forza Italia party that was the vehicle for his first electoral triumph in 1994.
His daughter and business heir Marina has been widely tipped to pick up his political mantle but she has repeatedly ruled this out.
Berlusconi is pressing for justice reforms which many fear might curb Italy's independent judiciary, an allegedly leftist part of which he blames for a "20-year" war on him in cases ranging from alleged bribing of a judge and witnesses to setting up slush funds.