“IS THIS the Italy we love? Is this the Italy we want? Absolutely not,” exclaimed Silvio Berlusconi in an angry nine-minute video message on August 2nd. A day earlier Italy’s supreme court had sentenced the former prime minister to four years in jail, of which three will be lopped off thanks to an amnesty introduced in 2006. Pleading his innocence, Mr Berlusconi implored his followers “to continue to fight for freedom”.
Mr Berlusconi showed not the slightest contrition, only fury towards the judges who had, in his view, repaid his hard work for Italy over the past 20 years with a prison sentence. In fact, Mr Berlusconi is unlikely to spend a single day in prison, as Italian courts rarely jail first offenders with a year or less to serve. They also hardly ever impose community service on those over the age of 70, and Mr Berlusconi has already announced that he would rather go to jail than do any. He will most probably be put under house arrest, which in his case could mean being cloistered in a luxurious villa in Sardinia or a palatial home in Arcore, near Milan.
However light his sentence, the media-mogul-turned-politician has been humiliated. He did not expect this: although he has been tried more than a dozen times, and found guilty in lower courts, he was always acquitted on appeal or saved when the time to prosecute him ran out. Now he is a convicted criminal. His passport has been taken. He will be subject to police checks. And he will be supervised by a magistrate, who will decide when and how often he can leave his residences. Under an anti-corruption law passed by the government of Mario Monti in 2012, he will be banned from running for elected office for at least six years. “Berlusconi does not have any future in Italian politics,” says Gianni Riotta, a journalist.
The immediate future of the Cavaliere, as he is universally known, in active politics has not been decided yet. The judges of the supreme court upheld an instantaneous ban on Mr Berlusconi holding public office, but asked an appeals court in Milan to examine again how long it should last. The decision will then need to be ratified by the upper house of parliament, the Senate, of which Mr Berlusconi is a member. The vote will probably take place in mid-September, after the sacrosanct summer holidays.
As a blocking power, Mr Berlusconi will continue to play a pivotal role in politics. The left-right coalition government led by Enrico Letta depends on the votes of Mr Berlusconi’s party, the People of Freedom (PdL) movement. The former prime minister is still surprisingly popular. According to a survey after the supreme court’s verdict by IPR Marketing, 30% of those polled still trust Mr Berlusconi compared with 47% for Mr Letta and 55% for Matteo Renzi, the mayor of Florence, a rising political star. And 27.5% would vote for the PdL compared with 26% for Mr Letta’s Democratic Party (PD) and 19% for the Five Star movement led by Beppe Grillo, a comedian who has taken to politics.
The vote in the Senate on whether to kick out Mr Berlusconi represents an unenviable dilemma for the PD. “What keeps the PD together is the opposition to Berlusconi, the fight for l’Italia giusta [a just Italy]”, says Duncan McDonnell at the European University Institute in Florence. Voting with the PdL senators, who are likely to remain loyal to their leader, against the ratification of the ban so as to save Mr Letta’s government would mean voting against their conscience for nearly all PD senators.
Mr Berlusconi’s legal troubles will thus divide an already fractious political party. The PD needs a new leader, a new slogan (l’Italia giusta will not work any more), a new programme and a new coalition, says Mr Riotta. The party has a temporary leader, Guglielmo Epifani, because its previous boss resigned after bungling the presidential election this year. The popular Mr Renzi is the most likely winner of the leadership elections that will take place in the autumn.
With its boss likely soon to be under house arrest, the PdL needs a new leader, too. Perhaps to mark a new chapter, Mr Berlusconi announced that his party would revert to calling itself Forza Italia, its original name. Who will be his successor? Mr Berlusconi has omitted to groom anyone. The fortunes of Mr Berlusconi’s erstwhile crown prince, Angelino Alfano, seem to have faded. Attention is now increasingly turning to a crown princess, Mr Berlusconi’s daughter, Marina, who chairs Fininvest, the family’s holding company, as well as Mondadori, its publishing arm. Ms Berlusconi has repeatedly denied any ambition in politics and has no political experience, but she was the only one of Mr Berlusconi’s five children who went to Rome to wait with him for the supreme court’s verdict. She also attended a meeting of party leaders.
With the governing coalition divided and fragile, Italy is likely to return to the polls again at some point in the next eight months. Mr Letta has made a promising start, but his reforms proceed at a snail’s pace mainly because he has so little room for manoeuvre. He needs to use Mr Renzi’s popularity to his advantage and make him his ally in the next electoral battle.
Meanwhile the future of the PdL is up in the air. It is a personal party without grass-roots support. A few thousand supporters of Mr Berlusconi at a rally in front of his palazzo in Rome on August 4th were allegedly bused in from southern towns, lured with the promise of a free trip to Rome. Ms Berlusconi offers perhaps its only chance of survival, even though some PdL grandees dislike any talk of a dynastic succession.
Giorgio Napolitano, the president, who handpicked Mr Letta as prime minister, is unhappy with the status quo. He is being lobbied hard to pardon Mr Berlusconi. Yet Mr Napolitano has already said that the judges’ verdict must stand. If PD senators are as principled as the president, the autumn will be even hotter than the scorching summer.
Πηγή: The Economist