Berlusconi bullish despite being ousted from Senate

Silvio Berlusconi listens to his party's hymn at the end of a rally at his home in Rome yesterday. Picture: AP
Silvio Berlusconi listens to his party's hymn at the end of a rally at his home in Rome yesterday. Picture: AP
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The Italian Senate has voted to eject Silvio Berlusconi, drawing a line under the parliamentary career of the three-time Italian prime minister who has dominated politics in the country for 20 years.

With insults flying in the Senate chamber and Berlusconi’s supporters holding a noisy demonstration outside his Rome residence, senators yesterday voted to kick out the media mogul in the wake of his definitive conviction in August for tax fraud.

The vote was held after the approval last year of a law – backed by Berlusconi at the time – that means any politician sentenced to more than two years is stripped of office and banned from re-election for six years.

As senators prepared to vote, Berlusconi, 77, told a crowd of about 1,500 supporters in Rome it was a “day of mourning for democracy”, but promised he would continue in politics from outside parliament. Backers held banners reading “Italy is with Berlusconi!” and waved flags saying “Silvio’s army”.

Berlusconi, who has long argued that left-wing magistrates were persecuting him, declared that the left “has put me in front of a firing squad”.

Berlusconi used his TV, construction and publishing fortune to create a new political party from scratch and win office in 1994, later becoming Italy’s longest serving post-Second World War prime minister.

But he has since been hampered by investigations into his businesses and private life, although his conviction for tax fraud at his TV company was his first definitive sentence, after he beat other convictions on appeal or saw them time-barred.

Now he is stripped of his Senate role, it will be easier for Italian magistrates to arrest Berlusconi as he is investigated in other cases, including for the alleged bribing of a senator to switch allegiances to his party.

He may also face investigation over suspicions he paid witnesses to tone down their accounts of his “bunga bunga” parties. He is currently appealing a sentence for paying an underage prostitute who attended the parties.

Addressing supporters in Rome, Berlusconi said he had no intention of retiring from politics and promised to set up 1,000 supporters’ clubs by December.

“Even though the magistrates will continue to go after him, we hope he remains our leader,” said Maria Teresa Rossi, 60, a Rome policewoman among the supporters outside his residence.

Berlusconi’s campaigning will be made more complicated if he chooses to carry out of a year of community service as part of his fraud conviction. His alternative is a year under house arrest.

Berlusconi has come back from political oblivion before. After resigning as prime minister in November 2011 as the scandal over his private life grew and the Italian economy crumbled, he appeared to retire from politics as Mario Monti took over the country to push through austerity measures.

But in late 2012 Berlusconi staged a brilliant comeback campaign, picking up on popular loathing of a housing tax introduced by Mr Monti, outshining a lacklustre campaign by centre-left candidate Pierluigi Bersani in the run-up to elections in February and placing his loyal backers in a cross-party government created after the election.

As the senate vote on his seat neared, Berlusconi sought last month to bring down the government with a no confidence vote.

However, his backers in the government – led by deputy prime minister Angelino Alfano – turned their back on him, preferring to stay loyal to Enrico Letta’s government.

The 59 renegades formed a new party, the New Centre Right, as Berlusconi relaunched his Forza Italia party.

Berlusconi’s rump party has officially pulled its support from the Letta government, leaving it with a sizeable majority in the lower house, but a slimmer majority of about six in the Senate.

However, Mr Letta said earlier this week: “The government, even if it has tighter numbers, is decidedly stronger, more coherent and compact.”