ROME: Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi is in for a tumultuous week that will likely see him booted out of parliament and shift into opposition to a government where he is still formally a coalition partner.
A vote on Berlusconi’s ejection from the Senate scheduled for Wednesday would see the former prime minister forced to leave parliament for the first time since he entered politics in the early 1990s.
Stalling tactics by Berlusconi loyalists have failed to delay the looming vote, which experts say could also leave Berlusconi far more vulnerable to arrest without the shield of parliamentary immunity.
The expulsion procedure follows a tax fraud conviction linked to Berlusconi’s business interests and stems from a new law aimed at cleaning up politics amid plunging rates of public support.
Political analysts have warned the former leader’s public downfall could rock the coalition.
“The government cannot claim to be safe from the impact” of such a “dramatic vote, a historic moment,” the influential Corriere della Sera daily said.
Fears that this week’s vote would bring down the government have however been allayed by a split in Berlusconi’s ranks led by one of his former proteges, Deputy Prime Minister Angelino Alfano.
Alfano has said he and his supporters will vote against Berlusconi’s expulsion from parliament but will stay in the left-right coalition even if the vote goes against the scandal-hit media magnate.
While some experts see this as a good omen for much-needed reforms under a moderate, centrist government, others worry about greater instability with Berlusconi sniping from the opposition.
Italy is struggling to extricate itself from its longest post-war recession, with unemployment and public debt set to rise next year even as the economy is forecast to resume meagre growth.
Wednesday’s vote comes just as parliament debates next year’s draft budget, which Berlusconi has already condemned as too tax-heavy and will likely vote against in a session on Monday formalizing his break with center-left Prime Minister Enrico Letta.