Italy’s parliament on Wednesday expelled former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi over a tax fraud conviction in a humiliating vote that might not be the last act of the billionaire tycoon’s tumultuous career as he vowed to “fight on.”
The three-time prime minister told thousands of his supporters outside his residence in Rome that he would stay on in politics despite the vote, saying it was “a day of bitterness, a day of mourning for democracy.”
“We are not going to retire to some convent,” Berlusconi said in a defiant speech, as fellow senators held rounds of voting that forced him from parliament for the first time in his 20-year political career.
Motions put forward by Berlusconi’s allies in the senate in an attempt to block the expulsion procedure were rejected one by one in a dramatic session in which dozens of lawmakers took the floor to support him.
One loyalist senator even compared the scandal-tainted Berlusconi to antiapartheid icon former South African president Nelson Mandela, and two rival senators almost came to blows.
Many senators from his party wore black in mourning.
Italian Senate speaker Pietro Grasso said the failure of the motions meant that a proposal “abolishing the election of senator Silvio Berlusconi” was considered approved.
Berlusconi is now banned from taking part in a general election for six years and has lost parliamentary immunity, which offers safeguards against arrest.
Rumors are rife in Rome that an arrest could be imminent, although Berlusconi’s lawyers have dismissed the prospect as “absurd” given that he has already had to give up his passport and is not a flight risk.
Experts said the expulsion marks another step in Berlusconi’s slow-motion demise, although he will continue to wield major clout even as an ex-lawmaker.
Berlusconi’s children rallied around their father after the humiliating coda to his 20-year parliamentary career.
His eldest, Marina, who heads the family’s holding company Fininvest, and Pier Silvio, deputy chairman of Berlusconi’s media empire Mediaset, both issued angry press releases.
“This country and this democracy should be ashamed of what my father is suffering,” said Marina, 47, who has denied persistent rumors that she could succeed Berlusconi.
On the streets of Rome, opinions were mixed.
“We managed to put an end to 20 years of fascism, we can put an end to 20 years of Berlusconism too. I hope then we will become a more grown-up country,” said Giulio, a passerby in the city’s trendy Trastevere District.
At the pro-Berlusconi rally, however, supporters, including his girlfriend Francesca Pascale, belted his campaign anthem Thank God Silvio’s Here and held up placards, which said the expulsion was “a coup d’etat.”
Several polls show that Berlusconi’s popularity is undimmed among core supporters and a center-right coalition led by him as figurehead could win elections.
Berlusconi, 77, left his residence shortly after the result of the vote was announced to be with his family at his villa near Milan — the site of some of the raunchy “bunga bunga” parties for which he has been convicted.