Despite Conviction, Berlusconi Still Grips Italian Parliament

By Vincenzo Cassano
Vincenzo Cassano
Vincenzo Cassano
August 28, 2013 Updated: August 28, 2013

BARI, Italy—Even after being convicted for tax fraud on Aug. 1, it seems Silvio Berlusconi’s influence on Italian politics has not changed.

As head of the People of Freedom party (PDL), Silvio Berlusconi directly controls the second largest political force in Italy’s coalition government, with one of his trusted allies, Angelino Alfano, as the vice premier.

Berlusconi will probably either serve one year under house arrest or do civil service. Under the Severino Law, enacted by former Italian President Mario Monti’s administration, Berlusconi would not be a senator anymore due to his conviction. But the Italian television tycoon is trying to play every card in his hand to maintain his position in Parliament.

Whether he will be able to bypass the Severino Law or not, there’ll be “no political sunset” for Berlusconi, according to Vera Capperucci, an expert in Italian politics at LUISS Guido Carli University in Rome.

He will “still play a role of a strong leader, as an outsider,” Capperucci said. Also, Berlusconi’s popularity “has declined slightly, but not that much” after the conviction that radicalized the positions of both supporters and critics, Capperucci said.

The Italian government will discuss on Wednesday the local property tax (IMU), a tax reform highly characteristic of Monti’s government that Berlusconi promised to eliminate and even promised to return the money to citizens, during his electoral campaign.

Some of the hard-liners in Berlusconi’s party said the government would fall if an agreement on the IMU tax reform were not reached. But Capperucci thinks the People of Freedom party will have the upper hand for now, but for not much longer because she said, “the successful strategy” is “to wait.” The unpopular IMU tax could prove Berlusconi’s downfall. Shares of his Mediaset television company are falling apparently due to fear of a government crisis. 

Neither the People of Freedom nor the Democratic Party has an interest in creating a government crisis, according to Capperucci. “The political cost would be too high, except for the Five Star Movement [party],” that has been firmly unwilling to pledge alliances with any of the other political forces. 

If the People of Freedom party withdraws, it would be hard for the Democratic Party to find an ally to keep the government afloat. But another election would probably create a similar situation to the current one, according to Capperucci, unless the Five Star Movement wins—an outcome both the Democratic Party and Berlusconi fears. 

An Epoch Times source inside the Parliament said that some of Berlusconi’s men wouldn’t dislike a future without their historical leader, but with the current electoral law that would not be possible. Italians cannot vote for an individual candidate for president, they can just vote for a party. The president is determined by rankings decided by the head of the voted party.

According to the source, the change of electoral law—that seemed to be wanted by all the parties, as it caused many hardships in the formation of a post-Monti government—is no longer a priority for the People of Freedom party. With the current law, Berlusconi’s power over the party is absolute and it’s not only due to his supporters.

Vincenzo Cassano
Vincenzo Cassano