Berlusconi Vows to Stay in Politics, Even if Booted From Senate

Silvio Berlusconi standing -P 2013
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The billionaire media mogul, facing a Senate expulsion and a year of house arrest, says "popular consensus" gives him the authority to stay involved.

ROME – Silvio Berlusconi, the billionaire media tycoon behind Italy’s Mediaset television and cinema giant, says he’ll stay involved in politics even if parliament votes to strip him of his Senate seat.

In a nationally televised video address, the 76-year-old leader said he had no intention to leave politics.

“You can be a politician outside parliament,” Berlusconi said, apparently wearing heavy makeup and seated at a desk in front of a bookshelf. “The seat does not make the leader; it comes from popular consensus.”

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Berlusconi claims most Italians support him, though opinion polls usually report his support levels at between 25 percent and 35 percent of adults.

Parliament is scheduled to vote on Berlusconi’s seat in the coming days. Some of Berlusconi’s allies vowed to withdraw their support for the government of Enrico Letta if Berlusconi were kicked out. But Berlusconi refrained from making threats in his address, saying only that he would continue to play a role in politics even if it was from outside the government.

Shareholders in Mediaset, the media giant Berlusocni controls, reacted negatively to the remarks, which could precipitate a drawn-out political battle as Berlusconi fights to remain politically relevant. The shares fell more than 2 percent in heavy trading at €3.21 ($4.24) despite a positive trading day on the Italian Stock Exchange, where the blue chip index rose 1.1 percent.

Berlusconi may find it difficult to flex his political muscle if he’s voted out of the Senate. His party -- recently re-christened “Forza Italia!” after a popular soccer cheer -- remains the second largest in parliament. But Berlusconi is likely to start serving a year of house arrest next month after the Supreme Court in August upheld a lower court conviction for tax fraud and false accounting -- meaning he will have to weigh in on debates from afar.

The conviction -- the first definitive conviction against Berlusconi after more than two dozen legal cases -- precipitated the parliamentary debate over Berlusconi’s Senate seat.

Twitter: @EricJLyman