In a Wednesday vote, the Italian Senate stripped the former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi of his seat in Parliament following his conviction in a tax fraud case. Berlusconi, 77, will not be able to hold a Parliament seat for at least 6 years. He resigned as Prime Minister in 2011, but returned to government after the general election this February.
Berlusconi maintains his innocence even after his conviction on tax fraud charges earlier this year, claiming that he is being persecuted by the country's left-wing judges. In recent months, the influential Italian politician has compared his plight to that of Jews living in Nazi Germany. On Monday, Berlusconi asked the Senate to delay today's vote, claiming to have new evidence proving his innocence. The Senate vote was the result of a new Italian law that effectively removes members of Parliament with criminal convictions from their seats.
The former Prime Minister was not at the Senate vote. Instead, he held a rally in Rome, where he pledged to remain a force in Italian politics. And, despite his expulsion, it's entirely plausible that he will. Berlusconi recently relaunched his right-wing Forza Italia party. From there, he can still wield influence without an elected office. But the vote leaves him much more legally vulnerable to other charges and challenges. The New York Times explains:
He has lost the special immunities awarded to lawmakers. With other legal cases underway against him – and the possibility that new litigation could be filed – Mr. Berlusconi is now far more vulnerable than when, as prime minister, he seemed virtually untouchable, batting away sex and corruption scandals.
A judge recently ordered Berlusconi to stand trial on charges of bribing a Senator. He's also challenging a sentence for paying for intercourse with an underage girl. He will begin community service — his sentence in the tax fraud case — some time next year.