Silvio Berlusconi is Blackmailing Italy to Keep Himself in Power
The euro zone's third largest economy slipped deeper into the muds of chaos today with the resignation of Berlusconi's center-right PdL – People of Liberty Party – ministers from the Council of Ministers, inviting the collapse of Prime Minister Enrico Letta's center-left government.
In a characteristic act of self-preservation, Berlusconi first called for the dismissal of all parliamentary members of his party last week as a threat to bring about the collapse of the current government and ruling coalition should they vote to expel him from Senate following his conviction for tax fraud one month ago. The conviction, which was initially a four-year prison sentence, was later reduced to one year of house arrest and community service, in accordance with a pardon voted on in 2006, and Berlusconi further being determined too old for prison at age 77. He is also to be stripped of his Senate seat.
Berlusconi's initial threat followed the president of the republic and head of state Giorgio Napolitano's message on Tuesday, which highlighted the necessity for the Senate Committee to vote in accordance with the law passed last year requiring the automatic resignation of any parliament member convicted of felony. Napolitano also addressed the need for "a parliament that discusses and works, not one that breaks up every now and then." The current ruling coalition is composed of the majority parties resulting from the inconclusive general elections of this past spring: the Democratic Party (PD) headed by Guglielmo Epifani, who replaced the 2013 running candidate Pier Luigi Bersani post-elections, Silvio Berlusconi's PdL, the Center Catholic Party (UDC), and Mario Monti's Civil Choice party (SC). The coalition is opposed by Beppe Grillo's Five Star Movement (M5S).
While Berlusconi's initial threat may be debunked as a bluff to invoke fear and send the media into a frenzy of operational crisis, the blackmail was fulfilled this morning when the five ministers of the PdL officially resigned from the Council of Ministers.
"We resign in order to enable, over the next few days, a more straightforward comparison and clearer acceptance of responsibility," read a statement signed by Angelino Alfano, Nunzia De Girolamo, Beatrice Lorenzin, Maurizio Lupi, and Gaetano Quagliariello.
"This is a crisis in the dark," read the front pages of Italy's principle news outlets. The ploy was executed with masterful strategy amidst severe instability within the ruling coalition, surrounding economic reform legislation meant to bring the country's deficit within European Union regulation limits and bi-partisan politics. "It's not about being leftist or rightist, it's about being pro or anti-Berlusconian."
Berlusoni justified his decision, masquerading the blackmail as a reaction to Letta's call for a vote of confidence and proposed increase on consumption tax, thereby freezing government activities:
"The decision taken by Prime Minister Enrico Letta to freeze government activities, in order to discuss an increase on consumption tax, is a serious violation of the terms upon which this government was formed, contradicts the plan presented to the Chambers by this same Prime Minister, and would force us to violate the commitments to our voters during the election campaign, and the moment in which we voted confidence in this executive which we greatly supported," he said in a statement to the press.
Letta publically responded on Twitter, exploiting the senator's irresponsibility and dishonesty towards the Italian populace:
"Berlusconi, in an effort to justify his crazy and irresponsible acts of today, all aimed strictly to cover personal motives, is attempting to overturn the [figurative] omelet using the excuse of the VAT. In Parliament, everyone will assume their respective responsibilities to the country – Italians will defer so gross a lie to the sender, in a similar perverse attempt to distort reality."
There is a high probability of either new elections or a re-organization of the ruling coalition. The resignations and subsequent fall of the Italian government will only further delay economic reform, threatening recovery from a devastating recession two years in the making, a public debt amounting to two trillion euros, and 40% youth unemployment.
Silvio Berlusconi has once again prioritized his personal interests to the detriment and demise of the very citizens he serves, in all his glorious drama reminiscent of a classic crime novel. The solution, however, is very simple: The Senate Committee needs to simply vote in accordance with the law, which requires his expulsion from Senate. While such a conviction would forbid his candidacy in the next general elections, Berlusconi loyalists spent this past summer organizing for the rebirth of his first political party, Forza Italia. After two decades of scandal, corruption, and a gross immorality, Italy may be facing the most dangerous political come-back in its modern history.