As recently as Monday, former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was hosting "the most powerful man in the world" -- his "friend" Vladimir Putin, as he calls him. On Wednesday, his situation became considerably less impressive: In an anxiously awaited decision, a majority of members of the Italian Senate voted to throw the former prime minister out of parliament as a result of his conviction for tax evasion in the so-called Mediaset trial.
The 77-year-old head of the revived conservative Forza Italia party has vigorously been fighting this outcome. Italian law calls for him to give up his seat as a result of criminal conviction, but he has been asking for an exception, calling the effort to remove him a campaign by his enemies. To maintain his position, he threatened, and failed, to topple the coalition government of Prime Minister Enrico Letta in October. But now it appears that Berlusconi has been vanquished.
Although he swears he will be back in Italy's Palazzo Chigi, the seat of the prime minister, in 2015, that would be impossible. According to a law approved by his party in Dec. 31, 2012, he is banned from running for a parliamentary seat, let alone the office of the prime minister, for six years.
He will also be unable to defeat Letta's government. Berlusconi's former party, People of Liberty (PdL) has split and one part will continue governing with the Social Democrats under Letta for the rest of the legislative period. This coalition has a comfortable majority in the Chamber of Deputies and a narrow, but sufficient six-vote majority in the Senate. Berlusconi and his loyalists can vote however they want -- it won't change anything.
Berlusconi also no longer has parliamentary immunity, which makes him more vulnerable in a number of other criminal cases against him. It will also be difficult for him to remain involved in politics in the nine months of his community service, which he is doing in lieu of one year of jail time or house arrest. The prosecutor's office will determine what he is allowed to do during that time, and to what extent, but he will need approval to travel and permission from the judiciary for political contact.
The greatest catastrophe for him would occur if he was convicted of another crime. Because of an amnesty law, his punishment from the Mediaset trial, in which he was sentenced to four years in prison, was downgraded, sparing him three years of punishment and giving him the option of serving the rest under house arrest or doing community service. According to the law, a further conviction would retroactively cancel his amnesty. If this were to occur at, for example, the end of his appeal of the Ruby trial -- in which he is accused of paying for sex with an underage prostitute and abusing his office, for which he was initially sentenced to seven years of prison -- he would have to face his entire four-year sentence along with any new jail term as well.
And that would be the end of Silvio Berlusconi.