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Italy’s President Appoints Four Senators Before Berlusconi Vote

Italian President Giorgio Napolitano appointed four senators-for-life 10 days before impeachment proceedings are scheduled to start in parliament’s upper house against three-time premier Silvio Berlusconi.

Napolitano named architect Renzo Piano, Nobel Prize-winning physicist Carlo Rubbia, orchestra conductor Claudio Abbado and brain-stem-cell research Elena Cattaneo to the senate, according to a statement on the president’s website. The upper house has two other permanent members: former Prime Minister Mario Monti and ex-President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi.

Senators-for-life have voting rights and can prove decisive in tight votes. In 2006, then-Prime Minister Romano Prodi, who found himself with a one-seat majority, relied on them to pass legislation in the upper house.

Today’s appointments come as Prime Minister Enrico Letta struggles to contain tensions that have strained his coalition government since Italy’s top court on Aug. 1 upheld Berlusconi’s tax-fraud conviction. Letta’s Democratic Party, the biggest force in the coalition, has said Berlusconi’s expulsion from the senate is required by an anti-corruption law enacted in December 2012.

Berlusconi’s People of Liberty, the second-biggest party, claims the law is unconstitutional and shouldn’t be applied to the former premier, whose conviction stems from tax fraud in 2002 and 2003. The Senate’s committee for immunity and elections will start discussing the issue on Sept. 9.

The senators appointed today are unlikely to affect the vote on whether to strip Berlusconi of his seat in the upper house. Letta’s party and the opposition Five Star Movement of comedian-turned-politician Beppe Grillo have the votes to expel Berlusconi if they join forces.

Napolitano said he’s “convinced” the four new lawmakers will work “in total independence” from party politics.

Daniela Santanche, a PDL lawmaker, said that Napolitano should have made Berlusconi a senator-for-life, calling him more deserving than the four appointed today, according to the news website.

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