Italy Lifts Ban on Silvio Berlusconi Holding Political Office

Former Prime Minister and president of Italian right-wing party Forza Italia, Silvio Berlusconi, speaks during a convention of his party on October 14, 2017 at Ischia. / AFP PHOTO / Eliano IMPERATO (Photo credit should read ELIANO IMPERATO/AFP/Getty Images)

A Milan court has rehabilitated media magnate and former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, releasing him from his “lifetime ban” on holding public office and paving the way for a possible return to active politics.

In 2013, Mr. Berlusconi was sentenced to seven years in prison and barred for life from holding public office, after being found guilty of paying for sex with an under-age prostitute, tax fraud, and abuse of office. In the end, Berlusconi never saw the inside of a prison cell and after the court’s announcement Saturday will be able to run for office if he so desires.

The timing of the court’s decision was curious, since it followed closely upon announcements of a probable coalition government between the two victorious populist parties from the March general election—the League and the 5-Star Movement—along with Berlusconi’s voluntary withdrawal from deliberations.

One need not be a conspiracy theorist to wonder whether the rehabilitation of the “Cavaliere” is intended to destabilize the process and make such a coalition difficult, if not impossible. For many of the old guard, the 81-year-old Berlusconi is looked upon as a lesser evil than the upstart populists, and one who is less likely to overturn the establishment apple cart.

The 5-Star Movement had urged the League to end its ties to Mr Berlusconi, whom it sees as a symbol of the corrupt political practices it opposes, and on Wednesday, Berlusconi said he would not stand in the way of a coalition between the two parties.

While the platforms of the League and the Five Stars are marked by significant differences, in recent days they have begun to converge around key points regarding immigration, relations with the EU, and a possible flat tax for the country. Italy still languishes under a debilitating economic crisis and a fiscal system in desperate need of repair, if not a complete makeover.

In a press release Thursday, the two parties announced that they had achieved “significant milestones” toward forming a workable government. In a Facebook post, Five Star leader Luigi di Maio expressed optimism regarding the prospects of overcoming differences, saying that the two parties had made “considerable progress” and had found “ample convergence on the issues that are nearest to the hearts of Italians.”

Italian president Sergio Mattarella, who has expressed his reservations regarding the election winners for their diffidence toward the European Union, has given the two parties until Monday to strike an accord, and in case of a failure to do so, the nation will hold new elections, perhaps in July.

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