Berlusconi Ally Says Government to Collapse If Ex-Premier Ousted

Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta’s government will collapse if his Democratic Party votes to end Silvio Berlusconi’s mandate as senator, a senior ally of the three-time premier said.

“If in a private company, a partner reports another one or tries to get rid of him, the business doesn’t exist anymore,” Renato Brunetta, chief whip of Berlusconi’s People of Liberty party in the parliament’s lower house, said in a phone interview today. The PD “would provoke the government’s fall,” he said.

The upper house is required to vote on whether to strip Berlusconi, now a senator, of his seat following his definitive conviction for tax fraud Aug. 1. The vote is stoking divisions and could bring down Letta’s four-month old coalition.

The Senate committee for immunity and elections will discuss Berlusconi’s case on Sept. 9, according to the upper house press office. The process may take weeks before a final vote by the entire chamber follows the body’s decision. The committee should take more time to evaluate Berlusconi’s position and assess his legal status given the importance of this decision “for the Italian democracy,” Brunetta said.

Italy’s 10-year bond yield was down three basis points to 4.34 percent at 3:02 p.m. in Rome, leaving the difference with comparable German bunds at 241.4 basis points.

The Democratic Party’s chief whips in parliament have already said the party’s senators will vote to end Berlusconi’s mandate. “Nobody will make us change our mind,” PD leader Guglielmo Epifani said in Siena late yesterday, according to the Ansa news agency.

Berlusconi’s People of Liberty party secretary, Angelino Alfano, called on the Democratic Party today to put aside the historical rivalry of the past years and reflect on such a move.

Far Apart

His remarks, broadcast by SkyTG24, came after a meeting with Letta in Rome late yesterday. The talks didn’t go well because their positions on how to proceed regarding Berlusconi remain far apart, according to a government official who asked not be named because the meeting was private. Letta told Alfano that he doesn’t want to be bullied into finding a solution to Berlusconi’s legal problems, the official said.

If the Democratic party votes against Berlusconi, blame for the government’s collapse couldn’t be put on the PDL, Berlusconi said in an interview published today on magazine Tempi’s website.

“They’ll say that it’s my fault if ministers elected with the People of Liberty party consider resignation in response to the judicial massacre of their leader elected by millions of Italians,” he said in the interview. “But I’m asking myself: if two friends are on a boat and one of them throws the other into the sea, whose fault is it if the boat goes off course?”

House Arrest

Sentenced to four years in prison, Berlusconi, 76, is unlikely to spend a day in jail, given Italy’s efforts to reduce prison populations and the leniency traditionally accorded to criminals over the age of 70. Ultimately, his penalty may involve house arrest or community service.

Earlier this month, Italian President Giorgio Napolitano rebuffed lawmaker requests to spare Berlusconi from his punishment for tax fraud and said court verdicts must be respected. Napolitano urged the forces in Letta’s parliamentary alliance, including Berlusconi’s People of Liberty party, in an Aug. 13 statement, to maintain their support and cooperate to “get beyond this difficult moment.”

“Although a collapse of the coalition and a return to the polls before the end of the year is not our baseline scenario, the political backdrop is set to worsen in the weeks ahead,” Wolfango Piccoli, an analyst with Teneo Intelligence in London, wrote today in a research report. “With the ruling coalition fragile and Berlusconi’s predicament unresolved, the government will be left with little room for maneuver and the reform pace could further deteriorate.”

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