Berlusconi doesn't sink govt in video message
Ex-premier vows to continue to lead centre-right even if banned19 September, 13:36
(By Paul Virgo) (ANSA) - Rome, September 18 - Silvio Berlusconi did not refer to the future of Premier Enrico Letta's left-right government in a hotly awaited video message on Wednesday in which he blasted the judiciary and relaunched his political party under its former name, Forza Italia.
Berlusconi's party had been threatening to sink the executive ahead of a vote on a Senate panel later on Wednesday over a bid to strip the three-time premier of his parliamentary seat after the supreme court upheld a tax-fraud conviction against him. The 76-year-old media magnate insisted he would continue to lead the centre-right even if he gets ejected from the Senate.
But he seems to have repelled the temptation to pull the plug on the government - for the moment at least - with Letta's centre-left Democratic Party (PD) set to vote for him to be turfed out of parliament. "I'll always be with you, whether I'm banned or not. You can have a political career outside parliament," he said in a 16-minute recorded message.
After several changes of heart, Berlusconi has reportedly decided to heed the advice of the doves in his party rather than hawks who say he should scupper the executive and try to provoke fresh elections. The doves say causing the end of the administration would have negative consequences for the country, which is trying to emerge from its longest recession in over two decades, as well as for his party, Berlusconi himself and his business empire. Berlusconi reiterated claims he is the victim of a campaign, which started when he entered politics two decades go, by alleged left-wing magistrates bent on driving him out of politics.
He said the Italian judiciary had "turned into a counter power of the State capable of conditioning the legislative and executive powers with a mission to achieve socialism via judicial means". He added that politicised magistrates enjoyed "total immunity" and that, as a result, "democracy has been sliced in two".
"I say to all of you Italians (who are) honest and of good sense - react, protest, let's hear it," he added.
He also described the new Forza Italia, which will replace his People of Freedom (PdL) party in a bid to appeal to younger voters, as the "last chance ahead of the catastrophe".
The PD described the message as the "video of the sunset" of Berlusconi's political career. "I found the statements made by Silvio Berlusconi disconcerting for the Cold War-tones used....(it was) offensive towards the centre-left," said PD Secretary Guglielmo Epifani.
He added that Berlusconi was "pouring petrol on the flames" of the difficult situation Letta's government is enduring.
Berlusconi risks being ejected from the Upper House under the terms of a 2012 anti-corruption law after the supreme court last month upheld a four-year tax fraud conviction - three years of which have been commuted because of an amnesty.
It was the first time a conviction against the centre-right leader became definitive after two decades of legal battles since he entered politics. Berlusconi is also appealing against convictions for paying for sex with an underage prostitute and for being involved in the publication of an illegally obtained wiretap. The vote that the Senate panel, on which the PdL is in a minority, is set to hold on Wednesday is only part of the process that would culminate in Berlusconi being stripped of his seat.
It regards a defensive report presented by a centre-right lawmaker.
If the report is rejected by the panel Wednesday, another panel member, probably a PD member, is likely to be given the job of preparing a new report, which would also have to be voted on.
If panel votes to strip Berlusconi of his seat and this decision would then have to be ratified by the floor of the Upper House, where the issue is not expected to arrive before the middle of next month.
Letta has repeatedly said the political instability threatens to undermine the recovery that the economy looks close to starting and warned the alliance parties, including his own PD, that he is not willing to "tread water" in office if the turmoil makes it impossible to govern.
He stressed that the situation that made his government necessary in April, when the PD reluctantly joined forces with the PdL to end two months of political deadlock after February's inconclusive general election, has not changed.
Many commentators argue that if the PD and the PdL break their alliance, new elections may again fail to produce a clear winner because of a much criticised election law that Letta's government has pledged to replace.