President clashes with Berlusconi over quit threat
Letta summons parties for 'govt check-up'26 September, 16:44
(ANSA) - Rome, September 26 - The fallout from ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi's upcoming ejection from the Senate on a tax-fraud conviction became incandescent Thursday as President Giorgio Napolitano was forced to step into the fray after the media magnate's party said it would walk out of parliament if the ban is enforced.
With the government apparently hanging by a thread, Premier Enrico Letta called a summit of the parties in his unprecedented right-left coalition.
Napolitano said Thursday that he considered "institutionally disturbing" the threat made Wednesday by lawmakers in Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia (FI) party to quit en masse if the ex-premier is stripped of his parliamentary seat after the supreme court upheld the tax-fraud conviction against him.
Napolitano described as "absurd" Berlusconi's claim a judicial "coup" was taking place in Italy and warned FI not to disable parliament or try to force him to dissolve it.
The president said definitive sentences must be applied after Berlusconi blasted the supreme court's decision to uphold the tax-fraud conviction as "subversive".
"The application of a definitive conviction... is a constituent part of any State based on the rule of law," he said. Three-time premier Berlusconi faces losing his seat in the Senate after the four-year prison sentence was upheld - three years of which have been commuted because of an amnesty.
The head of State added that neither he nor Premier Letta could intervene in the case. "A constituent part of any State based on the rule of law is the non-interference of the head of State or the prime minister in the independent decisions of the judicial authority," Napolitano said.
The resignation of the FI members in the Lower House and the Senate would cause Premier Enrico Letta's fragile grand-coalition government to collapse. Napolitano expressed his concern about the FI threat in a statement explaining why he could not attend a convention at the Senate.
"Yesterday evening a sudden, institutionally disturbing political development occurred that I have to dedicate all my attention to today," the statement said. On Wednesday the FI lawmakers agreed to write their resignations in advance and hand them in if Berlusconi is stripped of his seat in accordance with a 2012 anti-corruption law.
They say Berlusconi is the victim of a campaign of persecution from left-wing elements in the judiciary and argue that the 2012 law is unconstitutional and is being applied retroactively in this case.
They are furious that their foes-turned-alliance-partners in Letta's centre-left Democratic Party (PD) intend to vote for Berlusconi to be ejected from parliament in ballots on a Senate recommendation panel on October 4 and, if it gets that far, in a binding floor vote expected in the Upper House before the end of October.
In New York, Letta said he would hold talks with the parties supporting his grand-coalition government when he returns to Rome for a so-called 'verifica di governo' ('government check-up'), traditionally used to verify the viability of the alliance, and, more often than not, harbingers of collapse.
But sources close to Letta said this one would only "examine government activities in the cabinet and in parliament," apparently lowering the threat level.
FI members of the Lower House and Senate started signing their resignations and giving them to their respective whips on Thursday.
Analysts were split on the imminent threat to the government, with some saying it was another bout of sabre-rattling to twist arms on pet policies and others thinking Berlusconi wanted to spark a snap vote under an unchanged electoral law his in-house polls say he now has the best chance of winning - and before young Florence Mayor Matteo Renzi, his only rival in the charisma stakes, has time to be elected the PD's new leader.