Berlusconi Lays Out Succession Scenario –

14 Aprile 2011 1 Di luna_rossa


Berlusconi Lays Out Succession Scenario – Wall Street

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ROME—Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has anointed Italy’s justice minister to lead his center-right coalition in the future, laying out a succession scenario that would lower the curtain on one of Europe’s most enduring and controversial political careers.

Mr. Berlusconi, 74 years old, has survived numerous scandals and criminal trials during his 17 years in politics, giving him a reputation among Italian voters as an indefatigable force on the political stage. Many here have been convinced the billionaire would try to seek a fourth term as prime minister after his term ends in 2013.

Over dinner with members of the foreign press late Tuesday, however, the premier said that while he would probably take a key role in his party through the 2013 elections, he was unlikely to hold public office again.

It was the clearest sign yet that Italy’s one-man political show may have finally run its course.

“If I’m needed as the noble father for the elections, I’ll do it. I could be the name at the top of the electoral lists for my party, but I don’t want an operative role,” Mr. Berlusconi said, noting that he would consult polls before making any final decisions.

The premier said Justice Minister Angelino Alfano, 40, could “replace me.” Mr. Berlusconi didn’t elaborate, but the remarks would make Mr. Alfano a potential candidate for the Italian premiership and the future head of Mr. Berlusconi’s People of Freedom party.

The premier also said other members of his party, including Education Minister Maria-Stella Gelmini, could take future key roles in the party.

Mr. Berlusconi’s comments received wide coverage in Italy on Wednesday, prompting his spokesman, Paolo Bonaiuti, to say Mr. Berlusconi wasn’t making an announcement but expressing a “reflection.”

Mr. Berlusconi faces a high-wire act in passing the baton to Mr. Alfano—or anyone else.

Officials close to Mr. Berlusconi and political analysts have long viewed the media mogul as the lodestar of his political party, driving voters to the polls with his uncanny mix of bawdy jokes and combativeness.

Beyond his party, the premier also has to be careful to keep other members of his center-right coalition happy.

Mr. Berlusconi has long relied on support from Umberto Bossi’s Northern League party to hold his fractious governing coalition together.

The choice of Mr. Alfano, a native of Sicily and one of the main architects of the premier’s push to overhaul the Italian judiciary, is likely to clash with the League’s law-and-order platform and its history as a former separatist party for Italy’s richer northern regions.

A spokeswoman for Mr. Bossi didn’t respond to requests for comment.

“The political consensus revolves around Berlusconi, not the People of Freedom Party,” said Renato Mannheimer, a leading Italian pollster. Mr. Alfano could have trouble drawing supporters to the polls and gaining support from potential rivals within the party.

Mr Berlusconi’s eventual exit from the political scene could also have an impact on his media empire, Mediaset SpA.

Members of the center-left opposition have long criticized Mr Berlusconi for his dual role at the head of government and owner of the country’s biggest private media company, even though the premier says he is not involved in the day-to-day running of the company.

Mr. Alfano is a relative youngster in the sclerotic world of Italian politics. A lawyer by training, Mr. Alfano joined Mr. Berlusconi’s party in the early 1990s and became a lawmaker in 2001, swiftly rising to the top of the party’s ranks in Sicily.

His appointment as justice minister in 2008, following Mr. Berlusconi’s triumph at the polls, made Mr. Alfano the youngest person ever to hold the post.

Over dinner—whose menu included pasta with three different sauces of the color of Italy’s red, white and green flag—Mr. Berlusconi also discussed other figures for key Italian and European roles, effectively laying what he sees as the future realignment of the country’s political establishment.

During the dinner, Mr. Berlusconi said the government had thrown its weight behind Mario Draghi, the governor of the Bank of Italy, as a candidate to succeed Jean-Claude Trichet as president of the European Central Bank when his term expires in October. Mr. Draghi’s potential move to the ECB would remove him from the running for Italy’s premiership.

The premier also said he wanted his right-hand man, undersecretary Gianni Letta, to become the next president of Italy, an influential post that referees between branches of government and appoints judges to Italy’s Constitutional Court.

Mr. Berlusconi also cited his “personal” ties to Col. Moammar Gadhafi of Libya as a strain on his leadership. The premier recalled how his efforts to negotiate reparations for Italy’s colonial rule of Libya were met with symbolic gestures from the Libyan strongman, such as rifles stripped from fallen Italian colonial soldiers.

The premier said he considered resigning in the days before backing the North Atlantic Treaty Organization coalition’s plans to enforce a no-fly zone over Libya—a move that resulted in the bombing targets linked to the regime of Col. Gadhafi’s regime.

“With all the personal difficulty that this decision represented for me, I thought it was my duty to resign. Everyone asked me to not do it, so I stayed in my post,” the premier said.

Mr. Berlusconi said he is pushing over the next month to ensure that he has a 330-vote majority—enough votes, he said, to finish his term and pass controversial measures in Parliament, such as Mr. Alfano’s overhaul of the Italian judiciary and “modifications to the Constitution.”

Mr. Alfano, as justice minister, has been at the forefront of Mr. Berlusconi’s efforts to rein in the powers of the judiciary, which he says he believes is politically biased and out to persecute him.

On Wednesday, the Lower House of Parliament passed a bill that would shorten the statute of limitations in criminal trials, including those facing Mr. Berlusconi. The bill, championed by Mr. Alfano, must also pass the Senate, where Mr. Berlusconi holds a strong majority.

The premier is facing separate trials for charges including corruption, tax fraud, embezzlement, abuse of power and paying for sex with an underage person. Mr. Berlusconi has steadfastly denied all of the charges.

If the bill becomes law, it would extinguish a corruption trial facing Mr. Berlusconi as early as the end of May. Mr. Berlusconi has steadfastly denied prosecutors’ allegations in the trial that he paid $600,000 to a former attorney to give false testimony to prosecutors. The trial will time out at the end of January next year if the measure doesn’t get Parliament’s approval.

“It’s obvious that this law, if passed, will have an impact on the…case,” said Piersilvio Cipolotti, a lawyer for Mr. Berlusconi. The statute of limitations on Mr. Berlusconi’s three other trials would also be shortened, Mr. Cipolotti said, adding that those proceedings still have years to run their course if the bill is passed.

Write to Stacy Meichtry at [email protected] and Alessandra Galloni at [email protected]

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