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The Unending Silvio Berlusconi Show PDF Print E-mail
Sep 14, 2013 at 10:31 PM

Image"Convicted felon holds an entire town hostage." Since "paese", the word for country in Italian, is often used to signify "town", when I read the above it was hard not to think of one those horrid events in the United States, when one or more gun-toting individuals take hostages and terrorize an entire area.

Instead, the headline, in a left-leaning Italian daily, was referring to the current situation here, one in which the political debate continues to revolve primarily around the future of only one man, former premier Silvio Berlusconi. Recently convicted by a court of last resort of tax fraud and he is destined, sooner or later, to lose his seat in the Senate. However, not a day goes by that Berlusconi and one or more of his party cohorts threaten to bring down the coalition government in which they currently share power with the left of center Democratic Party, unless some kind of solution can be found to ease their leader's inevitable exit from politics.

And this regardless of the fact that the Italian economy, despite a few encouraging signs for the near future, is still terribly weak and that there are myriad other burning issues to deal with, including a new electoral law and related constitutional reforms, taxation and tax evasion, reorganization of the justice system and a renewed wave of boat people, this time mostly from Syria, reportedly more than 3000 in the last week alone.

Members of useless commission
The Italians have an expression, "arrampicarsi sugli specchi" - to climb up on mirrors - and there is no better expression to describe what Berlusconi and his party, the PdL, have been doing. Not a day has gone by without proposals and demands -most recently a suit filed with the Strasbourg European Court of Justice - that constitute a last-ditch attempt to allow Berlusconi to retain his elected post and delay his loss of parliamentary immunity which, among other things, could make him vulnerable to arrest on charges relating to several other ongoing investigations. (It shouldn't be forgotten that last June judges in Milan found Berlusconi guilty on charges of prostitution and abuse of office and sentenced him to seven years and lifetime forfeiture of public office in the so-called Ruby case. His lawyers have appealed).

These conjectured schemes include a new amnesty law, a pardon by Italian president, Giorgio Napolitano, and a constitutional challenge for the Severino law, a recent bill barring parliamentary posts to convicted felons with sentences of more than two years. That bill was passed in late 2012 with strong support from the PdL, which today instead claims it is retroactive and therefore unconstitutional.

A Senate commission began meeting this week to discuss Berlusconi's position with regard to that law. The lead-up to the commission's first meeting on Monday, September 9, and the hearings held so far have been focused on by politicians - along with a press that seems intent on confusing its audience - as if it were crucial to Italy's immediate future. If the Democratic Party votes for Berlusconi's ouster, the latter's party will pull out of the government, it is said and/or feared. The result has been a tedious and unenlightening daily soap opera.

The whole saga, to put it baldly, has been ridiculous. For only one month from now, on October 19, a Milan court will convene to discuss the exact length of the forfeiture of public office to which Berlusconi has already been sentenced and his departure from the Senate will be more or less automatic.

The fact is that, rail against it as he may, Berlusconi is on the way out and it is a sorry fact - although perhaps not surprising - that he hasn't had the dignity simply to resign. The structure of Italian politics, and the way people look at politics here, has allowed Berlusconi to turn his party into a fiefdom and to use his 20 years in politics, and nine as prime minister, primarily to pass laws benefiting himself and seeking to protect himself from prosecution. However, resignation when under a shadow is not part of Italy's political lexicon.

Berlusconi's supporters base their losing fight to preserve his leadership on the grounds that some nine million Italians voted for him in last February's elections and on his (and their) contention (ad nauseum) that he is not guilty and that his conviction is the result of on-going persecution by Italy's left-wing magistrates. Even if that were true, there doesn't seem to be anything they can do about it. Clearly, however, Berlusconi plans to keep on playing the victim and this may prove to be extremely advantageous. Although it is difficult for most non-Italians to understand - indeed, even for many here it is a bonafide mystery - this controversial (and now convicted) politician and media magnate still has a vast following that may produce an enormous sympathy vote in any future election.


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