Domenica, 21 Ottobre 2018
ROME

Truce in Berlusconi row that threatens Letta govt

English
© ANSA

(By Denis Greenan).
Rome, September 11 - The partners in Italy's
unprecedented left-right government have agreed to delay a
showdown over ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi's ejection from the
Senate after a tax-fraud conviction - although the media magnate
will be forced out anyway when his ban from office is
recalculated.
Berlusconi's People of Freedom (PdL) party was on the brink
of scuppering Democratic Party (PD) Premier Enrico Letta,
blaming the PD for the demise of his five-month executive
because of an alleged rush to justice on a Senate panel.
The PD was insisting it would vote to remove the three-time
premier according to an anti-corruption law both sides voted
last year as part of efforts to clean up politics after a wave
of scandals.
The PdL accused the PD of ignoring an appeal to the
Constitutional Court on the grounds that the law was being
applied retroactively, a contention the PD rejects.
Amid rising fears of a government crisis, the
foes-turned-allies agreed to prolong discussion on the panel,
which is now expected to take about a week to reach conclusions
on the tangled legal arguments being deployed.
But PdL House Whip Renato Brunetta repeated Wednesday that
the shaky alliance would be toppled if the PD members of the
panel vote to recommend the Senate should strip Berlusconi of
his seat.
"If the PD insists (on doing that), it will be the end," he
said.
Strains continued on the panel Wednesday as the PD and PdL
were unable to agree on a timetable.
"It will now be up to the chair to propose one tomorrow
(Thursday)," a panel source told ANSA.
The chair of the panel, Dario Stéfano, reiterated that the
law instructed his panel to take an "immediate" decision -
another point the PdL is strongly contesting.
Some Italian media commentators have been puzzled as to why
the PdL should have made the panel vote a deal-breaker, since
Berlusconi is set to lose his seat anyway when a Milan court of
appeals recalculates his ban on October 18, when it is expected
to cut it from five to three years.
There has been speculation Berlusconi was poised for a snap
election, riding his recent success in getting a hated property
tax abolished, but then pulled back from the brink when his
in-house polling showed voters didn't like the idea of returning
to the polls nine months after February's inconclusive
elections.
The media have also said President Giorgio Napolitano, who
knocked heads together to form the unnatural alliance in April,
may have had an influential role behind the scenes in averting a
crisis that would hurt an economy showing signs of emerging from
its longest postwar recession and halt the much-needed
institutional and political reforms which the PD-PdL have
started to enact.
Among these is a new electoral law to replace the one widely
blamed for producing February's stalemate.
Another is to slash the number of MPs and turn the Senate
from a law-making body with equal status to the Lower House into
a regional assembly.
A bill including these reforms is slowly making its way
through parliament.
Berlusconi, meanwhile, will continue to head the centre
right even after he loses his Senate seat, the PdL insisted this
week.
There have been suggestions he may decide to pull out of the
upper house before suffering the indignity of ejection.
Some commentators have said this might make it easier for
Napolitano to pardon him or commute his four-year sentence for
tax fraud, the first binding verdict in 20 years of battles
against magistrates he says are left-wing.
The term was cut to one year because of a previous amnesty
and 76-year-old Berlusconi, not liable to do jail time because
of his age, has to choose between spending the year under house
arrest or doing some form of community service.
Despite the conviction, the billionaire mogul is set to
rejuvenate the PdL under its original, 1994 name, Forza Italia.
Commentators have said there is nothing stopping him
continuing as the centre right's charismatic leader and have
likened him, in this case, to the rabble-rousing head of the
anti-establishment 5-Star Movement, comedian Beppe Grillo, who
exerts a guru-like influence over the new maverick force despite
not being eligible for office because of an old conviction for
vehicular homicide.
The conviction for dodging taxes on film rights at his
Mediaset media empire is not Berlusconi's only legal problem.
He is appealing against a seven-year sentence and a life
ban from office for paying an underage prostitute nicknamed Ruby
for sex and, in a separate case, a one-year term for involvement
in the publication of a wiretap that hurt a political rival.
He may also face trial for allegedly bribing a Senator to
change sides to contribute to the fall of a previous centre-left
government.
But Berlusconi, while unable to run for office, is still
seen as likely to fight the next election against the PD's
leader-in-waiting, Florence Mayor Matteo Renzi, who polls say
is currently Italy's most popular politician.
Premier Letta reiterated the importance of stabilising the
government Wednesday, saying doubts about its future could cost
Italy one billion euros by the end of the year.

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