Has the Democratic Party saved Berlusconi? – July 21

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The main political headline in today’s Italian newspapers concerns the Italian Senate’s controversial vote over whether or not to allow the use of wire tap of Silvio Berlusconi’s conversations as evidence in an ongoing investigation by the Prosecutor’s Office of Milan into accusations that he tampered with witnesses during a previous trial, some of whom were underage women that he had had inappropriate relations with. In Italy, Italian Senators have immunity from criminal prosecution, unless that immunity is lifted in a vote by the Italian Senate. Despite the majority of political groups declaring themselves in favour of the admission of the wire taps, the final vote (cast by secret ballot) rejected the prosecutor’s request by  ten votes. This has led to a series of accusations between the Partito Democratico (Democratic Party or PD) and Movimento 5 Stelle (Five Star Movement or M5S). M5S Senator Nicola Morra, accused the PD in an interview of having “saved” Berlusconi in exchange for his support of the constitutional referendum, which will be held this fall.

Former Italian President Giorgio Napolitano, who still has an influential voice in Italian politics, expressed his hope that a pact would be made between the PD and the opposition to face current threats from terrorism and economic instability in an interview in Il Foglio, which was reprinted by many other newspapers. He also called for changes to the electoral law (which governs the election of parliament members) currently under debate in the Italian parliament. Italy is currently debating the passage of laws that would fundamentally change the structure of its parliament and the way that parliament members are elected. The instability of Italian governing coalitions is well noted: because of Italy’s multiparty system, it is difficult, if not impossible, for a single party to win a majority of votes without having to stitch together shifting coalitions of multiple parties in what they refer to as a ‘governing coalition’. Only once or twice in Italian history has a governing coalition managed to complete a single term in office. Italian politics over the last year has been debating solutions to make the government that results from elections more stable and more effective at governing.

Matteo Renzi’s centrist allies, the NCD continue to face an ongoing crisis. After the NCD parliamentarian’s threats to withdraw their support from the government (see Politics briefing of July 11th) and the recent steps that Enrico Zanetti (Vice Finance Minister and leader of “Scelta Civica”, the other main ally of the Democratic Party) has taken to distance himself from Renzi, the head of NCD’s group in the Senate, Renato Schifani, resigned in an attempt to distance himself from the centre-left coalition. This casts further doubt on the solidity of Renzi’s coalition, whose majority in the Senate relies on the votes of the centrist senators, including the NCD and Scelta Civica.

The confusion in the Senate is one of the main reasons for a halt in discussion on Italy’s first draft law on torture. This law would mainly apply to police agents, who have often been accused of abuse of power. In three recent cases Stefano Cucchi, Giuseppe Uva and Federico Aldrovandi all died after having been beaten by the police. The European Court of Human Rights recently cited the absence of a law in Italy on torture as the reason it was not possible to convict the perpetrators. In the Senate, the centre-right parties Lega Nord, Forza Italia and the NCD came out against the bill and succeeded in blocking debate.

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