Although Berlusconi no longer commands enough support in parliament to bring down the government, he will still be able to inflict damage from the sidelines.
The Italian Senate expelled former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi over his tax fraud conviction on Wednesday, humiliating the veteran centre-right leader who vowed to continue leading his party from outside parliament.
The Senate vote, after months of wrangling and delay, opens an uncertain phase for Italy, with the 77-year-old media billionaire now apparently in the twilight of his political career but prepared to use all his resources to disrupt Prime Minister Enrico Letta's coalition government. Berlusconi, who has dominated Italian politics for two decades, had already pulled his party out of Letta's coalition after seven months in government, accusing left-wing opponents of staging a "coup d'etat" to eliminate him.
However, Berlusconi no longer commands enough support in parliament to bring down the government, which easily won a confidence vote on the 2014 budget on Tuesday with the support of around 30 dissidents who split from Forza Italia this month. Letta declared on Wednesday that his government was "stronger and more cohesive" after winning the budget vote and said it would press on with its reform programme.
A characteristic piece of political theatre, Berlusconi's address to supporters as the Senate voted underlined that he will remain a troublesome opponent of the government even outside parliament. "We have to stay in the field and we can't give up, even if the leader of the centre-right is not a Senator any more. There are leaders of the other parties who are not in parliament either", he said.
Much like Grillo - who does not sit in parliament but keeps up a steady stream of attacks in public meetings and on his blog - Berlusconi will still be able to inflict damage on the government from the sidelines. Berlusconi, who owns Italy's biggest private broadcaster, has adopted an increasingly eurosceptical tone, attacking Brussels, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Letta's euro-friendly government. Such attacks are likely to increase in the run-up to the European parliamentary elections in May.
The battle over Berlusconi has already disrupted any serious overhaul of the stagnant Italian economy, which is stuck in a recession that has lasted more than two years, sending youth unemployment over 40 per cent. The centre-right split may have removed the immediate threat to Letta, who has won two confidence votes in parliament since Berlusconi's conviction. But the risk of further judicial conflict over any of the other criminal trials and investigations hanging over Berlusconi could inflame his supporters still further.
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