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Goodbye Berlusconi?

Silvio Berlusconi’s political career suffered two major blows last week. Can Italy finally bid farewell to Mr “Convict” Bunga Bunga Berlusconi? Maybe, maybe not.

Berlusconi’s attempt to blackmail Italy and bring down the government failed miserably with Berlusconi himself u-turning at the very last minute. Instead of commanding his people to vote to topple the Letta government, he told them to save it, in a move which caught some of the Berlusconi faithful by complete surprise. Actually, and as was hammered home to Berlusconi in the moments before the confidence vote, many of his people, the ex-faithful, were going to vote to save the government and did so. Italy’s government survived the Berlusconi assault even if it was touch and go up until the end.

Rarely have Berlusconi’s minions refused to tow his line and to all concerned the failed attempt at toppling Italy’s government signalled the beginning of end of Berlusconi’s already slowly flagging political career. Another nail in Berlusconi’s political career coffin was soon to come.

The Committee

Last Friday, a parliamentary committee discussing whether or not Berlusconi should be stripped of his seat in Italy’s senate over his recent tax fraud conviction finally got round to voting. The vote went against Berlusconi, as indeed it should have done. Italy’s, new, law is quite clear: if you have been convicted of a crime, you can no longer play the political game. Berlusconi has been convicted.

As one might imagine, Berlusconi was not at all happy with the letter of the law being applied, impartially, to him. He even claimed that applying the law to him wounded the very heart of democracy in Italy, even if the opposite is true.

Berlusconi and his lawyers, two of whom just happen to be members of Italy’s parliament, claimed the parliamentary committee hearing Berlusconi’s case was not impartial. How true. No parliamentary committee made up of MPs from a mix of political parties can ever be impartial. Politicians by their very nature are not impartial, if they were, they would not be in politics and be members of parties whose job it is to contest the policies of the opposition or government.

However, 15 of the the 23 members of the multi-party committee were impartial in the sense that they simply applied the letter of the law. In actual fact, none of those on the committee should have voted against removing Berlusconi from parliament in view of the law, even if 8 did. Whether the law was right, wrong, or went against human rights, the wishes of Berlusconi’s dog Dudù or whatever, was irrelevant in terms of the remit of the committee.

In the event, eight of the members of the committee did act impartially and did not respect the remit of the committee – those who voted to save Berlusconi refused to accept the letter of the law which some of them had even helped create. Had Berlusconi’s party and allies controlled the committee , you can bet your last eurocent, the vote would have ignored Italy’s law and Berlusconi would have kept his senate seat.

What Next?

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Despite the outcome of the committee vote, Berlusconi is still, for now, a parliamentarian. What happens next is that Berlusconi’s future will be put to the vote of Italy’s entire senate. The senate should merely rubber stamp the decision of the committee.

When this senate vote will take place is unclear. It should happen this October, but it could end up being held in November. As ever in the volatile world of Italian politics, anything  can and probably will happen in an attempt to delay the vote or render the whole process of kicking Berlusconi out of politics invalid. Let’s assume, for now, that the vote will happen.

Saved by a Senate Vote

While unlikely, it is possible the vote in Italy’s senate will go in Berlusconi’s favour. Some would like to keep Berlusconi in place because that know the chaos he will cause will greatly increase the likelihood of elections being called.

Although this would not be good for Italy, or Europe, it would help a party like Beppe Grillo’s 5 Star Movement at election time. On the subject of the 5 Star Movement, Vito Crimi, one of the 5 Star Movement members of the committee hearing the Berlusconi case nearly ended proceedings by publishing a comment to Facebook which insulted Berlusconi. While ex-premier Berlusconi is freely permitted to insult all and sundry in Italy, woe betide others who dare to take convict Berlusconi’s name in vain. All hell let loose over the Crimi comment.

Berlusconi party members called for a halt to the proceedings of the committee although in the event this did not happen. Crimi got a hard slap on the wrist for his poorly timed Facebook update.

Some suspect Crimi did hope that the committee would fold as a result of his comment. This could have helped keep Berlusconi afloat and could have led to early elections which, coincidentally, the 5 Star Movement would be more than happy to see. Was the Crimi comment a mere blunder or something more? If it was not an error, was it a sign that the 5 Star Movement is starting to become more adept at playing the political game?

For the EU, Berlusconi is History

While Berlusconi has not been completely marginalised just yet, others, such as the EU, do think the Berlusconi phase is as good as over. Indeed, soon after the committee vote, EU bigwigs stated that Italy no longer had any excuse not to push through reforms. Noises from Italy’s prime minister Letta indicated that Italy’s newly stabilized government would get on the job. Whether it will remains to be seen. Whether it can also depends on Italy being able to say goodbye to Silvio Berlusconi.

The supposedly stable Italian coalition government has already started bickering. Guess who is at the centre of the current row? Why Berlusconi of course!

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