Sabato, 20 Ottobre 2018
ROME

Berlusconi salvation racks govt

English
© ANSA

(By Denis Greenan).
Rome, August 21 - Saving Silvio Berlusconi's Senate
seat racked Italy's unprecedented left-right government
Wednesday as Premier Enrico Letta met Berlusconi's No.2, Deputy
Premier Angelino Alfano, in a last-ditch bid to avert the end of
the shaky 100-day alliance between traditional foes, forced
together after a two-month post-election stalemate.
Berlusconi reportedly gave Alfano a mandate for "a last
attempt at mediation" to save him and the government.
The Senate is set to vote September 9 on stripping
three-time premier and media magnate Berlusconi of his place in
the upper house according to a new anti-corruption law that
kicked in after his August 1 conviction for tax fraud, his first
definitive sentence in almost 20 years of battles with
magistrates he accuses of left-wing bias.
Letta's Democratic Party (PD) has said it will vote
Berlusconi out, prompting an ultimatum from Berlusconi's People
of Freedom (PdL) party which claims subjecting Berlusconi to the
law, passed by Mario Monti's previous government with backing
from the PD and PdL, would breach the Constitution because it
would allegedly be applied retroactively.
Letta said Tuesday he trusted the PD to make the "right"
choice after President Giorgio Napolitano disappointed the PdL
last week by saying everyone was equal before the law and
Berlusconi's sentence must be implemented.
The premier also stressed that the PdL would have to
"shoulder the responsibility" for sparking a government crisis
to keep its charismatic leader in parliament.
Ahead of the meeting with Alfano, Letta was optimistic the
government would survive.
Observers had speculated the government could continue in
its emergency reform work while Berlusconi, despite losing his
lawmaker status, steered the PdL back to its roots under its
original Forza Italia banner.
But PdL hawks prevailed over doves Tuesday night and set a
10-day deadline to avoid Berlusconi's ejection.
Letta said ahead of his talks with Alfano that the
government's problems could be overcome despite the looming
showdown.
"I think our country has great opportunities ahead, I trust
the sense of responsibility and foresight of all", Letta said,
stressing the harmful impact of a crisis on an economy starting
to show signs of emerging from its longest post-war recession.
"It would be paradoxical", he said, for the government to
fall just when it was getting to grips with much-needed preforms
including lowering the costs of a discredited political system
and measures to stoke growth, attract foreign investment and
fight unemployment, especially among the young.
The government has also vowed to change a reviled electoral
law that produced February's inconclusive result, although the
PD and PdL have been squabbling over various proposals.
A repeal of an unpopular property tax, Berlusconi's key
election pledge, is an even more contentious issue and could
itself sink the government even if the two sides somehow get
around the PdL leader's ban from office.
PdL hawks repeated their warnings ahead of the Letta-Alfano
meeting, which was headed into its third hour shortly before
eight o'clock.
One of Berlusconi's closest aides, Fabrizio Cicchitto, said
the government was "at its last ditch".
"Letta can warn us but we can warn him, and the PD can't
turn the Senate immunity panel into a firing squad," he said.
Long-time PdL spokesman Daniele Capezzone said "numerous
highly qualified jurists" had voiced "doubts" about the
application of the law framed by former justice minister Paola
Severino and warned that Letta and the PD "cannot play Pontius
Pilate" in the face of the alleged Constitutional breach and the
wishes of millions of voters.
PD MP Matteo Colaninno responded that expecting the PD to
ignore the law and save Berlusconi meant asking it for "banana
republic solutions".
But Defence Minister Mario Mauro from Monti's Civic Choice
party, a former PdL member, made peace overtures, saying
"further analysis of the formal aspects of the law's
application" would be possible in a "spirit of loyal
collaboration".
Berlusconi's four-year prison sentence was commuted to one
year of community service or house arrest because of an amnesty
and due to his age.
He has said he will not submit to either forms of the
sentence.
Berlusconi, who is appealing convictions for sex with an
underage prostitute and releasing an illegal wiretap, has said
he will not ask for a pardon from Napolitano.
He is also reportedly doubtful about an appeal to the
Constitutional Court on the Severino law because of his stated
belief that the supreme court, which has quashed several laws
aimed at ending his legal woes, is also left-wing.
With the government's fate in the balance, the Italian media
are already speculating about a possible second Letta-led
administration backed by the PD, PdL moderates who decide to
abandon Berlusconi, and enough disillusioned members of the
anti-establishment 5-Star Movement of comedian Beppe Grillo to
form a majority.

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