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Italian paliament expels Silvio Berlusconi

Senate strips the former prime minister of his seat over a tax fraud conviction.

Silvio berlusconi expelled from parliamentEnlarge
Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi delivers a speech outside his private residence in Rome on Wednesday. (TIZIANA FABI/AFP/Getty Images)

Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has been kicked out of parliament over his tax fraud conviction.

The Senate on Wednesday voted 192 to 113 in favor of stripping Berlusconi of his seat after an hours-long debate.

There were two abstentions.

The 77-year-old billionaire described the vote as a “day of mourning” for democracy.

The decision has deprived Berlusconi of more than just his seat in parliament. He’s also lost his parliamentary immunity, which means he could face arrest over other criminal cases.

Berlusconi was recently indicted in a new corruption probe

But he has no plans to leave politics just yet. 

A protest by supporters on Wednesday afternoon will be "only the beginning," the media tycoon warned this week, saying it would be followed by a series of actions to "defend democracy," although he no longer commands enough support in parliament to bring down the government.

Berlusconi, who has dominated politics in Italy for two decades, has already pulled his center-right party Forza Italia out of Prime Minister Enrico Letta's coalition after seven months in government, accusing left-wing opponents of mounting a "coup d'etat" to eliminate him.

Letta declared on Wednesday that his government was now "stronger and more cohesive" after a group of dissidents who split from Berlusconi's party helped him win a confidence vote on the 2014 budget late on Tuesday.

Berlusconi's departure and Forza Italia's defection from government to opposition will provide Letta a boost.

He now has a working majority of parties from the center-left and center-right that resemble their counterparts in other European countries. It means he is no longer dependent on Berlusconi and his supporters.

Letta, of the center-left Democratic Party, and Deputy Prime Minister Angelino Alfano, who broke with Berlusconi to form the New Center Right party this month, both have their roots in the Christian Democratic Party that dominated Italian politics for decades after World War II.

Together they have an opportunity to push through the reforms Italy needs to drag its economy out of the doldrums. But there is a risk.

Those reforms will come at a price for many powerful vested interests and are likely to entail a period of economic pain as the country attempts to reduce a national debt which, at around 130 percent of economic output, is the euro zone's second worst after Greece.

That could see voters tempted by the opposition, which is now a mix of Berlusconi, the Northern League - a party tainted with racism and xenophobia - and the oddball Five-Star Movement led by anti-establishment comedian Beppe Grillo.

Wednesday's vote stems from a Supreme Court decision in August to uphold a tax fraud conviction against Berlusconi. He was found guilty of masterminding a complex system of illegally inflated invoices to cut the tax bill for his Mediaset television empire and sentenced to four years in jail.

The sentence was later commuted to one year to be served either under house arrest or through community service. Berlusconi maintains his innocence. 

Under a law passed last year — with Berlusconi's support — politicians convicted of a serious criminal offense can't hold public office.

Despite the humiliation of being ousted from parliament, Berlusconi is likely to remain a thorn in Letta's side. The consummate survivor may yet use his immense wealth, enduring personal popularity and unrivalled political guile to emerge as the leader — even by proxy — of those Italians disaffected by the economic solutions perused by Letta's government.

Speaking to thousands of supporters gathered outside his residence in Rome ahead of the vote on Wednesday, he said, “We are here, will be here and will stay here. Let’s not despair if the leader of the center-right is no longer a senator.”

Analysts agree that Berlusconi is not a spent political force. He will continue to lead his Forza Italia Party and still enjoys support from millions of Italians. 

"He is not out of politics, he is out of government," James Walston, chairman of the International Relations Department at the American University of Rome, told CNN. "He will cease being Sen. Berlusconi."

The prospect of Il Cavaliere at the head of a new force on the wilder side of Italian politics means he is also likely to continue to cause some sleepless nights in Brussels and Berlin.

Senior correspondent Paul Ames in Lisbon and Reuters contributed to this report.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/europe/italy/131127/silvio-berlusconi-expelled-italian-parliament