Berlusconi Revamps Old Party as Senate Moves to Eject Him

Italy’s right-wing leader revives his former political party after the Senate robs him of his seat.

Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi arrives for a European Council meeting in Brussels, October 26, 2011
Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi arrives for a European Council meeting in Brussels, October 26, 2011 (The Council of the European Union)

In a dense night for Italian politics, former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi used a video address Wednesday night to announce the revival of his twenty-year old party Forza Italia after the Senate had voted to deprive him of his seat hours earlier.

A majority of senators rejected Berlusconi’s defensive motion which argued that he should remain a member despite a tax fraud conviction earlier this year. Under a 2012 anti-corruption law, which was then supported by his own party, any politician sentenced to more than two years imprisonment should lose his seat.

The vote came after Berlusconi’s appeal to a parallel verdict for corruption was rejected by the courts. The former premier and business tycoon was ordered to pay almost €500 million in damages for the illicit acquisition of a publishing company in 1991. This closed another escape hatch for the disgraced politician as President Giorgio Napolitano is not allowed to grant amnesty to anyone who has been convicted twice — as Berlusconi’s devotees had requested.

A second vote is expected to be called in the Senate within ten days but the outcome is unlikely to be different. The final act should come next month when a plenary session of the body is to confirm the decision to rob Berlusconi of his seat.

Breaking a month long silence, Berlusconi invaded Italians’ homes on Wednesday with a prerecorded video message that was simultaneously broadcast across all major television networks when the outcome of the Senate vote was disclosed.

The announcement did not include substantial revelations and Berlusconi’s rhetoric was familiar. The former prime minister bashed a judiciary which he claimed was responsible for a “monstrous and political verdict” and allegedly orchestrating “the judiciary way to socialism.” Distancing himself from his ruling coalition with Prime Minister Enrico Letta’s Democratic Party, Berlusconi reiterated his election mantra, “less state power, less public spending, less taxes” — also distancing himself from his party’s support for austerity measures. He vowed to remain at voters’ side even outside parliament. “It is not the parliamentary seat that makes a leader,” he said, anticipating a possible resignation from the Senate before it can eject him.

Mirroring the mechanics that first propelled him to power in 1994, Berlusconi also announced the restart of Forza Italia, a party that was dissolved to make way for Il Popolo della Libertà between 2007 and 2009. This move had already been unveiled in June. Since then, Forza Italia logos have been appearing at Il Popolo della Libertà events.

Revamping Forza Italia is far from a substantial change. Il Popolo della Libertà had already been similar to the original since former foreign minister Gianfranco Fini’s conservative Alleanza Nazionale left the party in 2010. It is nevertheless a clear step to new elections.

Berlusconi did not, however, directly threaten the stability of the coalition. While inaugurating the new Forza Italia headquarters, he reassured the majority that a crisis would be destabilizing. “We will stay in the government until it reaches its obligations,” he promised.

Even if both ruling parties are assuring voters that the government is stable, it appears they are, in fact, both preparing for another confrontation. Letta’s social democrats are approaching their party congress while Berlusconi is preparing for a revamped campaign. Once more, autumn could be the dark season of Italian politics.

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