Legislative activity in both chambers of parliament was suspended yesterday because of the protest by Berlusconi’s People of Freedom (PDL) party, one of the two main partners in Enrico Letta’s left-right coalition government.
The court decision has aggravated tension in the squabbling coalition.
The supreme court was forced to issue an unusual statement defending its decision on Tuesday to hear Berlusconi’s final appeal on 30 July against a tax fraud conviction. The 76-year-old media magnate’s lawyers had not expected a ruling until late in the year.
The court will rule on whether to uphold a four-year jail term and five-year ban on holding public office for complicity in tax fraud at Berlusconi’s Mediaset television empire.
Although Berlusconi will probably escape jail because of his age if the sentence is confirmed, he could be thrown out of parliament in what would be a major shock to Mr Letta’s fragile government. Mr Letta said the government would survive but some hawks in Berlusconi’s party are thought to want to force an election in October if he is condemned.
In an attempt to ensure PDL loyalty, Mr Letta again promised in a television interview that he would abolish a hated housing tax which is the PDL’s central demand, despite the difficulty of remaining within European Union budget constraints.