Parliament to vote on Berlusconi

First a demonstration in front of his Rome residence just off Piazza Venezia, then the vote in the senate on whether or not to remove Senator Silvio Berlusconi from public office.

And in one of his last moves before the ballot Berlusconi announced that his party Forza Italia would no longer vote with the government of Enrico Letta, putting another question mark over the future of the grand coalition and its future programmes. Some commentators see this as the opening move in a long election campaign that will last until next spring.

Originally the ex-prime minister also threatened to appear on Bruno Vespa's Porta a Porta television talk show at the same time as the debate in the upper house of parliament on 27 November. However it now seems that he has been advised against so public an appearance and that he will instead be going back to Milan to wait the result of the senate vote with his family.

The future of Berlusconi has been hanging in the balance since August when Italy’s supreme court confirmed lower court sentences against the ex-prime minister and convicted him to four years in prison for tax evasion and fraud. After a decade of trials, appeals and counter appeals the Mediaset case, as it is known, was drawing to a close. Because of his age (77) the four years were reduced to one year of house arrest or community service.

At much the same time a lower court verdict that Berlusconi should be suspended from public office and from standing for election for five years was reduced to two years after further deliberation by a Milan court.

However the final say on the suspension of one of its members is up to the senate. The last few months therefore have involved the slow evolution of this process, which at one stage nearly toppled the government.

It was not until the beginning of October that the special senate committee examining the procedure finally voted in favour of an open ballot in the full house, under the terms of a relatively new anti-corruption law known as the Severino law.

Had Berlusconi decided to resign from office, as many hoped, he would have spared himself an open and public vote in the senate (the upper house ratifies a resignation of one of its members with a secret ballot). And the government would have been able to turn its full attention to the economy rather than to fending off attacks from the ex-prime minister.

But Berlusconi has decided to go down fighting, and taking as much time as he can in the process. In recent days he has announced that he has found new evidence from the United States that can prove his innocence in the Mediaset case.

Other trials in both Milan and Naples are closing in around him and it therefore suits Senator Berlusconi to hang on to his parliamentary immunity for as long as he possibly can.