Stakes may be too high even for Berlusconi

In a dramatic week, the media tycoon has been accused of humiliating Italy

For two months now Berlusconi has seemed caught up in a schizophrenic frenzy, sending contradictory signals

For two months now Berlusconi has seemed caught up in a schizophrenic frenzy, sending contradictory signals

 

Has media tycoon Silvio Berlusconi gone too far this time? This has been the week when Berlusconi not only accused the judiciary of attempting a “coup d’etat” but also added that coalition government partners, the Democratic Party (PD), are driven by a “criminal ideology” that intends to eliminate him from political life by “judicial means”.

At a dramatic late-night party meeting on Wednesday, Berlusconi called on all the parliamentarians in his People Of Freedom (PDL) party to be ready to resign their seats, just as soon as parliament votes to expel him in the wake of his June conviction and consequent ban from public office for tax fraud by his TV company Mediaset.

For two months now Berlusconi has seemed caught up in a schizophrenic frenzy, sending contradictory signals. One day he threatens to pull down the Enrico Letta-led, PDL-PD coalition government if he is not granted some form of presidential pardon. Next day he says that, in the national interest, he will continue to support the Letta government.


Downplay
So far, state president Giorgio Napolitano and prime minister Letta have tended to downplay Berlusconi’s various statements. Both men believe that a government collapse now for Italy would have drastic economic repercussions, certainly for Italy and perhaps for the euro zone too.

This time, however, may be different. The normally suave and composed Letta was reportedly furious at the timing of Berlusconi’s latest threat. For it came in a week when Letta addressed investors in Canada and on Wall Street, in the context of a road show intended to convince them that Italy was stable and headed for a 2014 of guaranteed economic growth.

The prime minister said that Berlusconi’s words, invoking the spectre of further instability, had “humiliated” not him but rather Italy. PD party secretary Guglielmo Epifani went further yesterday, saying that Berlusconi had betrayed Italy, “stabbing the country in the back”. Not for nothing, when he returned to Italy from New York yesterday, Letta immediately plunged into a feverish round of negotiations with his own party, with the PDL, with his cabinet and lastly with Napolitano.

Many commentators argue that Berlusconi is willing to risk a government collapse and subsequent dissolution of parliament because that way his expulsion process would be stopped. Berlusconi could then retain his parliamentary immunity, at least until the next elections were held, perhaps months ahead.

Given that he faces further judicial problems this autumn in relation to the Rubygate and Barigate sex scandals, as well as to the accusation that he “bought” senators in 2008 in order to bring down the Romano Prodi led centre-left government, parliamentary immunity could be very important for Berlusconi.

In the meantime, the immediate fate of the Letta government may be clarified by a confidence vote in parliament on Monday.

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