Berlusconi ponders position after Senate-panel vote
First step towards stripping ex-premier of seat completed19 September, 10:52
Senior PdL members had been threatening to sink the grand-coalition government for weeks if their foes-turned-allies in Premier Enrico Letta's centre-left Democratic Party (PD) voted against a defensive report presented to the panel by a centre-right lawmaker.
But in a hotly awaited video message broadcast shortly before PD panel members made good on their promise to vote against the report on Wednesday, Berlusconi made no mention of the future of the fragile executive, stressing he would remain the centre right's leader even if banned.
This was seen as a sign that Berlusconi does not intend to pull the plug on the government, at least for the moment, although the PdL's secretary, Deputy Premier and Interior Minister Angelino Alfano, said a decision will be made later on Thursday.
"This evening Berlusconi showed great sense of the State, but that does not mean that the question of the compatibility of our relations with our alliance partners is not open," Alfano told one of Berlusconi's Mediaset TV channels late Wednesday.
"We'll address the issue (of the effects of the panel's vote on the government) in the next few days.
"Tomorrow he'll be in Rome and we'll meet and decide". However, he PdL's Senate whip Renato Schifani said in an interview published in Thursday's Corriere della Sera that the party was "remaining in the government in order not to leave space to the party of taxes and public spending" - referring to the PD. After the defensive report was rejected, the Senate panel's chair, Dario Stefano of the left-wing SEL party, will prepare a new report that is likely to demand that Berlusconi be ejected from parliament.
If that is approved, as its likely given that the PdL is in a minority on the panel, the issue will be put to a vote on the floor of the Senate, although this it not expected to happen until mid-October. In his video message, Berlusconi blasted alleged leftwing magistrates who he says have been persecuting him for two decades since he entered politics two decades ago.
He also announced the relaunch of his party under its former name, Forza Italia, which will replace the PdL in a bid to appeal to younger voters.
He said the new Forza Italia represented as the "last chance ahead of the catastrophe".
PD Secretary Guglielmo Epifani blasted Berlusconi for using "Cold War tones" in the address and said he was "pouring petrol on the flames" of the difficult situation Letta's government is enduring.