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WAY TO GO

Italy has done the unimaginable. It has proved to Silvio Berlusconi, the country’s longest-serving prime minister, parliamentarian and most powerful media mogul, that he is not invincible. The country’s senate has expelled Mr Berlusconi following his conviction in a tax fraud. Mr Berlusconi had caught a whiff of this message when he had failed to bring down the coalition government of the prime minister, Enrico Letta, in October. His protégé, Angelino Alfano, who is also deputy prime minister, had refused to toe his line and vote against the Letta government. Mr Berlusconi had then made a swift volte face to shore up the government. While he had hoped that no one would notice his slipping control over his party, he had also hoped that his last-minute bravado would be rewarded by a stalling of the impending expulsion proceedings. But his People of Freedom Party has split since then, and he has been unable to stop the inevitable in spite of his appeal to the president for pardon, dire warnings to Italian senators and desperate attempts to confuse the legislators with fresh evidence against his conviction. Mr Berlusconi was intent on holding on to his position because without parliamentary immunity he could be thrown into jail for several of the other cases that are being pursued against him, particularly the one for his alleged misdemeanours with an underage girl.

In spite of the snub from his former acolytes and the public humiliation of an expulsion, Mr Berlusconi is still not a man without options. He retains a firm grip over a vote bank of six to seven million people, the reason behind his triumphant showing in the February elections that made him play kingmaker. This is also what now enables him to portray the expulsion as a conspiracy by his political rivals. No matter what the political mess, Mr Berlusconi remains a man with vast financial resources and media influence that he has used and will continue to use to gain back traction. Given his strident anti-austerity, euro-sceptic, anti-German and anti-immigration campaign that found favour with the electorate in February, he will also be able to swing popular opinion his way. This may not be sufficient to win him back the premiership of the country or his seat in parliament from which he may be banned for the next six years, but it may be enough to enable him to retain his hold over Italian politics and thus satisfy his hunger for control and influence.