Berlusconi ban vote late September, panel chief says
Ex-premier says will topple govt if PD tries to eject him04 September, 19:59
(ANSA) - Rome, September 4 - A vote on stripping Silvio Berlusconi of his Senate seat and possibly ending Italy's unprecedented left-right government will take place at the end of September, the head of the panel set to rule on the ex-premier's ban after a tax-fraud conviction said Wednesday. By the end of September, Dario Stefàno said, the Senate should receive a draft proposal on Berlusconi's ban.
"Under normal conditions....it will be possible to think that by the end of September," a proposal will be drafted, said Stefàno, president of the elections and immunity committee in the Senate, which convenes Monday to discuss the ban attached to the three-time premier and media magnate's August 1 conviction for dodging taxes on film rights at his Mediaset empire. Berlusconi and his People of Freedom (PdL) party have said they will pull the plug on the government if their uneasy government partners in the Democratic Party (PD) vote to recommend a ratification of the ban.
The PdL and PD, long-time foes, were forced into an unnatural alliance on an emergency reform platform in April, two months after February's inconclusive general election.
A PdL heavyweight, former transport minister Altero Matteoli, on Wednesday repeated the threat to bring the government down if the panel vote goes against his leader. "We call on the Democratic Party to respond precisely...if the government is to go ahead, or else we can no longer (work) together," he said.
Matteoli criticized the law framed by former justice minister Paola Severino and passed by the PD and PdL under the previous government of Mario Monti which bans anyone with a conviction like Berlusconi's from holding office for six years.
The PdL claims the law is being applied retroactively in Berlusconi's case, although it became effective before his four-year conviction for fraud on film rights on August 1, his first definitive conviction in 20 years of legal battles against magistrates he says are left-wing. The PdL says the law is against the Italian Constitution but the PD says it isn't.
PD justice pointman Danilo Leva said Berlusconi's ban from was "exclusively" a problem for PdL and not the PD, amid PdL suggestions that some in the PD are uneasy about defeating long-time bogeyman Berlusconi via the judiciary rather than in the political arena.
"Evidently, they're deaf and blind in the PdL," Leva said.
"We have clearly and on several occasions set out our position, and it won't change.
"It's the PdL that must address the problem. It's up to them to separate the government's destiny from Berlusconi's personal affairs".
PD Premier Enrico Letta said he was nonetheless optimistic the government would survive the Senate vote.
"I'm optimistic and I have a duty to be optimistic," Letta said.
Letta stressed the importance of "going ahead" with reforms "for the good of the country" and highlighted Berlusconi's importance as leader of the PdL, junior partner in the unnatural coalition between the long-time fierce enemies.
The Milan bourse sank 1.35% amid the growing fears of a premature end to a government which has started much-needed reforms amid signs the economy may soon emerge from its longest post-war recession.
The yield spread with German bonds was a tad down, at 248 points.
Berlusconi has appealed to the Constitutional Court and the European Court of Human Rights against the four-year prison sentence, which was was commuted to one year of community service or house arrest because of an amnesty and due to his age.
He has said he will not submit to either forms of the sentence.
Berlusconi, who is appealing convictions for sex with an underage prostitute and releasing an illegal wiretap, has said he will not ask for a pardon from Italian President Giorgio Napolitano because that would be an admission of guilt.
He is reportedly more optimistic about the EU court appeal and less so about the one to the Constitutional Court because of his stated belief that the supreme court, which has quashed several past laws aimed at ending his legal woes, is also left-wing.
With the government's fate in the balance, the Italian media are speculating about an election this autumn under an unreformed and widely criticised electoral system that helped produce February's stalemate, or a possible second Letta-led administration backed by the PD and enough disillusioned members of the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement of comedian Beppe Grillo to form a majority.
Grillo has denied suggestions any of his followers are set to jump ship.
Centre-right 'doves' have also rebuffed reports they might abandon Berlusconi and support a second Letta administration.
The next election will likely be a clash between Berlusconi, even if he is out of the Senate, and PD leader-in-waiting Matteo Renzi, the mayor of Florence, whose charisma rivals Berlusconi's and who has cross-party appeal.