Italian Senate votes to expel Berlusconi but few believe he will go without a fight
Vote carried by 194 to 112 to expel ‘man who has a tendency towards crime’
Silvio Berlusconi after delivering a speech to his supporters outside Palazzo Grazioli, his private residence, in Rome yesterday. Photograph: EPA/Guido Montani
Is this the end, or it is just another beginning-of-the-end moment?
That is the question after yet another dramatic day in the Italian parliament yesterday when the Senate voted, by 194 votes to 112, to expel the centre-right leader and former prime minister, senator Silvio Berlusconi.
Thus, after four months of heated debate, the Senate finally ruled on arguably the most divisive figure in modern Italy.
For his supporters, inside and outside parliament, the media tycoon remains a victim of a politically motivated witch- hunt by leftist magistrates. For his many opponents, and indeed for the Milan judges in the infamous Rubygate sex scandal, Mr Berlusconi is a man who “has a tendency towards crime”.
Yesterday’s vote, prompted by Mr Berlusconi’s Supreme Court conviction in August for tax fraud by his Mediaset TV company, was played out against the inevitable background of bitter polemics as the media tycoon adopted a “Custer’s Last Stand” mode.
Even as the parliament was voting to expel him, he himself was addressing a protest demonstration 400 yards up the road, outside his Rome residence of Palazzo Grazioli and just across the road from where Mussolini used to harangue supporters.
It says much about the mood of the protest that the organisers had originally wanted to decorate the meeting platform with a huge banner reading, “This is a coup d’etat”. This was removed by police.
Mr Berlusconi’s supporters, many of them bussed in by Forza Italia, underlined the point by holding up party-prepared placards that read: “This is a coup”. The choreography of the day displayed many Berlusconi touches – the Forza Italia women senators, for instance, arriving at the upper house, dressed in mourning black.
At his meeting, Mr Berlusconi addressed his supporters on a bitterly cold Roman night, speaking against a sky blue Forza Italia backdrop that contrasted with the dank, dark night all around him. Defiant as ever, he said he was not retiring to a convent.
“They [PD opponents] are celebrating now as they send me, their enemy in front of an execution squad . . . This is a conviction that cries out for revenge before God and man.”
There were several moments of tension in the Senate itself. At one point, senior Forza Italia figure Maurizio Gasparri launched an attack on recently appointed life senator, Renzo Piano, the distinguished architect who was making his first appearance in the house.
Senator Gasparri asked ironically why Senator Piano had finally decided to attend a House sitting. Could it be that he had come to vote against Mr Berlusconi?
In the short term, the fallout for Mr Berlusconi may be limited as he intends to continue to play an active part in political life, even outside parliament.
However, he is worried reportedly that yesterday’s vote will leave him “exposed” in the medium term, as it strips him of parliamentary immunity from arrest.
Watching the commotion was the quietly satisfied centre-left prime minister Enrico Letta, head of a left-right coalition which can no longer count on Mr Berlusconi’s vote.
Lame duck walks again
However, the loss of the Forza Italia vote has done little or no damage to Mr Letta’s government, given that the more moderate elements in the Berlusconi camp have broken with him to form NCD, a new centre-right party that has chosen to remain loyal to the government and to abandon Mr Berlusconi.
One of the most ironic developments during a dramatic day is that the once-lame duck Letta coalition government now looks stronger than ever.