Uncertainty reigns before Senate-panel vote on Berlusconi
PdL threats to topple govt seem to cool18 September, 16:34
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. The 76-year-old media magnate, who 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, says he is the victim of a campaign by alleged left-wing magistrates bent on driving him out of politics.
Senior PdL figures have repeatedly threatened to sink the grand-coalition government if their foes-turned-alliance-partners in Letta's centre-left Democratic Party (PD) make good on their promise to vote to ratify Berlusconi's ban from office.
But the tension has cooled slightly, amid speculation Berlusconi does not intend to use the video to sink the executive, but to announce the launch of a revamped version of his old party, Forza Italia, which will replace the PdL in a bid to appeal to younger voters.
After several changes of heart, Berlusconi has reportedly decided to heed the advice of the doves in the PdL 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 the PdL and for Berlusconi himself and his business empire. 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 PdL 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.
The PdL claims the 2012 anti-corruption law at the centre of the row is being applied retroactively in Berlusconi's case, although it became effective before his definitive four-year conviction for fraud on film rights for his Mediaset empire on August 1.
The PdL says the offences for which Berlusconi was convicted took place before the law was passed, and so it is being applied retroactively, which they say is against the Italian Constitution.
The PD has dismissed arguments from jurists sympathetic to the PdL as "quibbling" and says the law must be applied to Berlusconi as it would be to anyone else.
Berlusconi has appealed to Italy's Constitutional Court and the European Court of Human Rights against the ban from the tax-fraud conviction.
The ex-premier will not have to actually spend any time in jail as he is over 70, but will have to choose between community service or house arrest next month.