Steep road lies ahead for former Italian prime minister

While Berlusconi may recover from his political difficulties, his judicial troubles will be harder to come back from

A demonstrator holds a sign reading ‘It is a coup of State’ during a rally in support of Silvio Berlusconi in front of his house, Palazzo Grazioli, in Rome yesterday. Photograph: Giorgio Cosulich/Getty Images

A demonstrator holds a sign reading ‘It is a coup of State’ during a rally in support of Silvio Berlusconi in front of his house, Palazzo Grazioli, in Rome yesterday. Photograph: Giorgio Cosulich/Getty Images

Thu, Nov 28, 2013, 01:00

So, is Berlusconi about to go down without a fight? Lest anyone have any doubts, a glance at the front page of the Berlusconi family owned daily, Il Giornale, yesterday would have resolved them.

In a defiant editorial, the paper warns Berlusconi’s opponents “not to delude themselves with the belief that an expulsion vote can stop Silvio Berlusconi from being the political leader of millions of Italians who still hope for a free and liberal country”.

Berlusconi might have registered another heavy defeat yesterday but he is not down and out yet, according to Il Giornale.

While it is true this is not the last act in the dramatic and never-dull 20 years of Berlusconi-dominated public life, what is certain is that the road in front of the 77-year- old leader is steep and rising, on both political and judicial fronts.


Future campaign
In political terms, expulsion means that Berlusconi cannot present himself for election for at least six years. However, this does not mean he cannot play a dominant role in a future election campaign, from outside parliament.

Two of the most influential Italian political leaders of the moment, Florence mayor and probable future centre-left leader Matteo Renzi and M5S protest movement leader Beppe Grillo, both dictate and determine (often key) votes of their parliamentarians, without themselves being elected to either House.

Already there have been signs that Berlusconi has no intention of abandoning the political stage. Just 10 days ago in a “last hurrah” gesture, he “refounded” Forza Italia, the party with whom he came from nowhere to win the 1994 general election.

And earlier this week he said he might contest the next elections as a candidate for prime minister. If the combination of Berlusconi’s media power, his continuing appeal to an ageing segment of centre-right voters and his brilliantly effective electoral campaigning mean that he could still have a political future, the outlook on the judicial front is not so rosy.


Embarrassing cases
In the coming months, Berlusconi is likely to be in court for at least three embarrassing cases – the “Rubygate” and “Barigate” sex scandals and the “De Gregorio” vote-buying case.

Arguably, the most explosive of these is the third, involving a former centrist senator, Sergio De Gregorio. He has told Naples magistrates that he accepted a €3 million bribe from Berlusconi in 2008 to change sides and vote with his centre right forces to bring down the centre-left government of Romano Prodi.

That case has yet to come to court unlike the much publicised “Rubygate” trial, involving the former belly dancer, 21-year-old Moroccan Kharim “Ruby” El Mahroug. Last June, the first level of the Rubygate trial concluded with Berlusconi receiving a seven- year sentence for “abuse of office” and “involvement in underage prostitution”.

Explaining their verdict last week, the judges
concluded that “Mr Berlusconi has a tendency towards crime . . .”

Yesterday may not have been endgame for Berlusconi but it is hard not to conclude that, even for someone as resilient as he, the end is ever more in sight.