In the fluid world of Italian politics, things move fast. Last week, Silvio Berlusconi took steps to shut down his PdL party, ostensibly because he had lost control of it to the man who was once nominated his successor, Angelino Alfano.
Recently, Alfano wrong-footed and embarrassed Berlusconi when he managed to persuade enough members of the PdL to vote to keep the current government afloat. Berlusconi had wanted to topple the government and precipitate Italy into elections.
Behind Berlusconi’s move on that occasion was an attempt to delay a vote in Italy’s senate which may strip him of his seat. Forcing Italy to hold general elections would have delayed the senate vote for a good few months. Berlusconi, as you may know has been convicted of tax evasion. If Berlusconi were actually able to win an election with a convincing majority, his legal woes would be just about over.
With a decisive election win, any votes on removing him from parliament would get nowhere. You can bet your last dollar that the law which requires Berlusconi’s removal would be changed very quickly to ensure no further votes could take place. Well, Berlusconi is at it again. He failed in his last attempt to push Italy into elections, but this time round he may succeed even if the chances of this happening are not that high. A lot depends on the number of people Berlusconi can count on.
Hawks versus Doves
Around the time of the confidence vote, the Berlusconi camp was splitting into two groups: the so-called pro-Berlusconi Hawks (falchi in Italian) and the Doves (columbe in Italian), who say that while they are still Berlusconi supporters, they don’t want him to topple the government. The Doves know that if Italy’s government were to fall now, Italy may well find itself in very hot water. Indeed, the IMF might come marching in and impose draconian measures.
Apart from the IMF ‘invading’ Italy, bringing down the government now may have disastrous consequences on the economic and social stability of the Boot.
That the IMF may virtually take over Italy is a gamble Berlusconi is prepared to take. He does not seem to be too worried about out the in-house social and economic consequences of toppling the government either, but then he’s a billionaire so he does not have much to worry about anyway.
What Berlusconi is trying to do, though has not done yet, is to rebuild his party under the name of the recently resurrected Forza Italia – Go Italy – party. You can be certain that members of this new-old party will be 100% loyal to Berlusconi. ‘Traitors” such as Angelino Alfano and the other Doves will be sidelined. The present PdL party will cease to exist. Will Berlusconi succeed in his attempt to regain control of his political future? It’s hard to tell. At the end of the day, it will depend on how many Doves there are. If there are more Doves than Hawks, the Berlusconi probably won’t achieve his aim which is to topple the government and attempt to win elections. On the other hand, if the Hawks outnumber the Doves, then Berlusconi will be in a strong position.
Today, Alfano, the leader of the Doves, tried to patch things up with Berlusconi. Even if Alfano succeeds, it is unlikely Berlusconi will ever trust him again. The attempt by Alfano may indicate that the Doves believe they are outnumbered by the Hawks.
Even if the numbers do turn out to be in Berlusconi’s favour, he won’t necessarily try to bring down the Letta government immediately. What he may try to do is to give the impression he can and use this to pressurise Italy into passing new laws or adapting current legislation to put his legal woes to an end and keep him in politics. By staying in politics, Berlusconi knows he can keep his legal troubles at bay.
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In Italy, all politicians enjoy a high degree of protection from legal proceedings, but those who belong to parties which control the government enjoy an even greater degree of protection. This, Berlusconi knows very well.
Despite Berlusconi’s conviction for tax evasion at the start of August, he’s still walking the streets and is still in parliament even if legislation his party helped create – the anti-corruption Serverino Law – says he should no longer be in politics. The letter of the same law could be applied to Berlusconi if he’s prosecuted in an upcoming bribery case.
A Curious Coincidence
Berlusconi’s latest attempts to destabilize Italy’s government coincided with charges of bribery being levelled against him.
Berlusconi stands accused of paying a €3 million bribe to another politician, Sergio De Gregorio, in return for said politician’s political support. This support formed part of an alleged attempt by Berlusconi to topple Italy’s Prodi government in 2006.
Former senator Sergio De Gregorio has admitted accepting the bribe and claims it came from Berlusconi. Berlusconi denies that he attempted to bribe De Gregorio, though De Gregorio’s admission suggests otherwise.
Soon after the De Gregorio bribery charges came to light, Berlusconi made the attempt to gather all his loyalists together in the new Forza Italia party. A coincidence? Maybe. Maybe not.
A New Phase of Political Instability for Italy?
Politically, Italy is rarely stable at the best of times. It is not exactly stable now. What will the effect of Berlusconi’s current machinations be? Well, he’s made an already wobbly government even more unstable and worries that the government will collapse are growing.
In the past, before Italy was so closely integrated with Europe, political instability in Italy raised eyebrows but did not really worry anyone beyond Italy’s boundaries. It was Italy’s problem and not much more. Today though, things are different and if Italy really does crumble economically, the effects could reverberate throughout Europe and even further afield. Indeed, both the European Union and the IMF are keeping a close eye on Italy.
Rumour has it that Italy was as good as ordered to sideline Berlusconi back in 2011. This happened, partially. Will Italy be ordered to do the same now? All that really needs to be done to clarify the Berlusconi situation is for Italy’s senate to vote on the issue of whether or not the tanned media magnate turned politician should be stripped of his senate seat. While Italy’s law says he should be, Italy’s senate can, if it chooses, decide to ignore the law it drew up. It is not yet known when the senate vote will take place. Everything depends on Doves and Hawks.
Watch this space.