ROME (TIP): The Italian Senate on November 27 expelled three-time ex-Premier Silvio Berlusconi from Parliament over his tax fraud conviction, ending, for now, his two-decade legislative run but not his political career. Berlusconi has warned that the unprecedented move would embarrass Italy internationally. He maintained his defiance as the Senate voted, declaring on Wednesday a “day of mourning for democracy” before thousands of cheering, flag-waving supporters outside his Roman palazzo. Even though Berlusconi won’t hold a seat in Parliament, he is expected to remain influential in Italian politics.
He has relaunched his Forza Italia party and he still commands millions of loyal supporters. While his lawyers chart possible legal challenges and his allies move into Italy’s opposition, Berlusconi’s fans massed in front of his Roman palazzo for a rally that analysts said was essentially the start of Italy’s next electoral campaign. “Today they are toasting because they can take an adversary, they say a friend, in front of the executioner’s squad,” Berlusconi said. “It is the day they have been waiting for for 20 years.”
He pledged to continue his role as a political leader, citing other figures not in Parliament, namely the founder of the Five Star Movement, Beppe Grillo, and Matteo Renzi of the Democratic Party, tipped by many as a future premier candidate. “Also, from outside the Parliament, we can continue to fight for our liberty,” he said. Supporters were treated to a video montage of Berlusconi’s greatest political hits from a career that began in 1994 when he first came into power with a political party named for a soccer chant “Go Italy.” He said that even if he’s no longer a senator, he will continue to be a force to reckon with.
“For us he will always be there,” said Marilda Antonello as she held a banner reading “The law is not equal for everyone. Sick justice.” “He is our only leader. He is the only man who can take Italy forward,” she said. The Senate vote on whether to remove Berlusconi from the chamber stems from a 2012 law that bans anyone sentenced to more than two years in prison from holding or running for public office for six years. His lawyers claim the law is unconstitutional and have questioned why the rush to expel him while legal challenges are still pending.
Italy’s high court on August 1 upheld Berlusconi’s tax fraud conviction and four-year prison term stemming from his Mediaset empire’s purchase of television rights to US films. The prison term was reduced automatically to one year under a general amnesty; he will serve his time either under house arrest or through public service. Berlusconi claims he didn’t receive a fair trial and that the judges were biased and out to “eliminate” him from public office.
His lawyers have also charged that the 2012 law is unconstitutional and can’t be applied retroactively to crimes allegedly committed before it was passed. They have taken their challenge to the European Court of Human Rights — even though it turns out Berlusconi didn’t make much of his Senate role to begin with: Private TV La7 reported this week that Berlusconi attended just one Senate session since April’s elections. And that was when he did an about-face and backed the government in a confidence vote after threatening to bring it down.
Nevertheless, Berlusconi made a lastditch bid to save his seat this week, sending a letter to opposition senators warning them that kicking a threetime premier out of public office would tarnish Italy’s image abroad and weigh on their consciences, “a responsibility that in the future will shame you in front of your children, your electors and all Italians.”