Berlusconi ‘will have clout even as an ex-MP’

Italy's Silvio Berlusconi will continue to have clout even if he is expelled from parliament as expected on Wednesday, but he is more at risk of being arrested, an expert on Italian politics said.

Berlusconi 'will have clout even as an ex-MP'
Silvio Berlusconi faces a parliamentary vote regarding his expulsion on Wednesday. Photo: Gabriel Bouys/AFP

"Berlusconi is still extremely powerful, although that power is declining," James Walston, a professor at the American University in Rome, said this week.

"He still has enormous resources, he still has his media, he still has lots of very diehard supporters inside and outside parliament."

But he added Berlusconi would be "liable for arrest".

Walston said Berlusconi was particularly worried about a case in Naples yet to go to trial in which he is accused of bribing a leftist senator to join his party and undermine a previous centre-left government.

"There is a possibility, but it's unlikely, that the Naples judges will actually put him inside," he said.

He added that the same remote chance existed for accusations that Berlusconi paid off young women who took part in raunchy parties at his villa in exchange for favourable testimony at one of his trials.

"The immunity he has as a lawmaker is not complete but it offers safeguards against arrest. He will no longer have that from Wednesday evening," Walston said.

"If he is arrested, there would be mayhem," he said, adding that the move could have the effect of increasing his popularity and earning "sympathy votes".

"I think there are political considerations that the judges will make about the consequences."

Berlusconi is set to be expelled from parliament following his conviction for tax fraud earlier this year under a new law aimed at boosting public support for the legislature by getting rid of criminals.

The three-time former premier would also be banned from being a candidate in the next general election and faces the prospect of a year's community service as part of his punishment, but that is only due to be implemented from early 2014.

Expulsion from the Senate would mean Berlusconi being forced out of parliament for the first time since he was elected in 1994 when the media magnate entered politics.

Berlusconi on Monday appealed to fellow senators not to vote against him, saying that democracy itself was at stake and claiming that new testimony gave sufficient grounds for a judicial review of his tax fraud case.

But Walston said the vote on Wednesday was "highly likely" to go ahead despite delaying tactics by Berlusconi's "diehard" supporters in parliament.

"If the vote goes ahead, then he will be expelled."

Prime Minister Enrico Letta's left-right coalition is expected to survive the vote even after Berlusconi and his loyalists move into opposition to a government in which they are at least formally coalition partners.

Deputy Prime Minister Angelino Alfano, a former Berlusconi protege, broke away from his mentor and has said he and his supporters will stay in the coalition even if Wednesday's vote goes against Berlusconi.

"In the short-term it will strengthen Letta's government but in the medium term it will probably weaken him," Walston said, explaining that divisions in the centre-right and centre-left undermined stability.

"There are problems for the government on all sides."

Walston said Berlusconi had been "careful" in his 20 years in politics about not allowing any potential successors to rise through the ranks, leaving the party "very weak" if and when he leaves the political scene.

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Here’s the first glimpse of the Italian Silvio Berlusconi film

The trailer is finally here for Paolo Sorrentino's biopic of Silvio Berlusconi, a man who the director called "an archetype of Italianness".

Here's the first glimpse of the Italian Silvio Berlusconi film
A scene from Paolo Sorrentino's film about Silvio Berlusconi, Loro. Image: Universal Pictures International Italy/YouTube

Filmed in Rome and Tuscany last summer, the hotly anticipated Italian-language feature – titled Loro or “Them” – does not yet have an official release date, but is expected to premier at the Cannes Film Festival in May.

Sorrentino, best known internationally for his Oscar-winning film La Grande Bellezza (The Great Beauty) and the TV series The Young Pope, has said he wanted to profile Italy's most infamous living politician because “he is an archetype of Italianness and through him, you can describe Italians”.

To judge by the trailer released on Monday, the film will focus at least as much on Berlusconi's personal life as his long career in media and politics. 

“I was interested in the man that’s behind the politics, but I am not so interested in the political stuff,” Sorrentino told the BBC last year, explaining that he would also tell the story of those around the businessman-turned-politician who tried to use his position to “change the course of their own life”. 

The teaser features multiple women, many of them scantily clad, but only a passing glimpse of Berlusconi, played by Toni Servillo. 

Paolo Sorrentino (L) and Toni Servillo with the 2014 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film for La Grande Bellezza. Photo: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images/AFP

The Neapolitan actor – who starred in La Grande Bellezza as well as Il Divo, Sorrentino's musical biopic of another former premier, Giulio Andreotti – has already impressed the Italian media with what La Repubblica called his “metamorphosis”. Photos from the set showed Servillo sporting Berlusconi's trademark tan and distinctive hairline; now he's winning praise for his spot-on impression of the four-time prime minister's voice.

We've only heard him say one line so far. Loro's trailer opens with a man's voice asking, “What did you expect: to be the richest man in the country, become prime minister and be madly loved by everyone too?” 

As Berlusconi, Servillo replies: “Yes, that's exactly what I expected.”

It's not clear if the real Berlusconi has seen the film. While he originally offered to allow Sorrentino to shoot inside his private villas, by October last year he said he had heard unwelcome rumours that the film might be a “political aggression towards me”.   

According to La Repubblica, Sorrentino did get the chance to meet Berlusconi's second ex-wife, Veronica Lario, with whom the politician is engaged in a long-running legal battle over alimony. Played by Elena Sofia Ricci, Lario also features in the trailer, looking mournful on a trampoline.

Berlusconi's pet poodle Dudù also makes an appearance. 

The teaser comes just a week after Berlusconi's greatest political defeat to date: his Forza Italia party won just 14 percent of the vote in Italy's general election, making it second within the centre-right bloc to the populist League. Should the group manage to form a government, the League – not Berlusconi – now gets to decide who will be prime minister.

Little has been seen or heard from Berlusconi publicly since the results came in. Many expect it to be the last time that the 81-year-old leads his party into an election, despite his supposed political immortality.

“The world has an idea of Berlusconi [as] a very simple person,” Sorrentino told the BBC. “But… I understood that he is more and more complicated than this. I would love to try to describe this complex character.”