Silvio Berlusconi threatened to bring down the Italian government if Prime Minister Enrico Letta’s Democratic Party votes to expel the three-time former premier from the Senate.
“We’re not available to keep the government going if the left decides to prevent the head of the People of Liberty from remaining in politics,” Berlusconi told a rally organized by the Army of Silvio supporters’ association late yesterday, according to a statement released by the group.
Letta is struggling to contain tensions that have strained his coalition government since Italy’s top court upheld Berlusconi’s tax-fraud conviction on Aug. 1. The 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.
Berlusconi softened his rhetoric today, saying he “didn’t issue an ultimatum” and that he wants the government to continue to govern. Yet in comments broadcast by SkyTG24, he said it’s “absurd” to assume that the People of Liberty would remain in Letta’s coalition if the Democratic Party forced his removal from the Senate.
Letta’s government this week passed cuts to an unpopular property tax, helping to ease tensions with Berlusconi, who had opposed the levy.
The prime minister tried yesterday to separate the impeachment procedure against Berlusconi from the survival of his coalition.
“Anyone who draws improper connections between the Senate decision and the government will have to explain the meaning of these dangerous relations to the citizens,” Letta said in comments broadcast by SkyTG24.
The process to strip Berlusconi of his Senate seat may take weeks or months before an eventual vote in the full chamber is called.