Tensions are rising in Rome as the Italian Senate is due to vote on whether it will serve convicted politician Silvio Berlusconi with a ban from politics on Wednesday, but the former prime minister could have an ace – or a video or two - up his sleeve.
Speculation is rife in Italian media reports that Berlusconi, the billionaire media mogul and politician who was convicted for tax fraud in August, has prepared two video messages to be broadcast on Wednesday ahead of -- or in response to -- the vote that could end his political career.
One of the videos, which was due to be broadcast on Tuesday, is a seemingly innocuous announcement by Berlusconi that he is to revamp his "People of Liberty" (PdL) and resurrect its former title, "Forza Italia."
The other video, however, is thought to feature criticism of the alleged left-wing magistrates that Berlusconi says are behind his conviction. He believes they have plotted against him to remove him from politics.
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However, Berlusconi's alternative video could reveal whether he intends to sink the coalition government led by Enrico Letta, in which his party has a substantial role.
One of these two videos was expected to be sent to broadcasters Tuesday, ahead of Wednesday's crunch meeting of the Senate panel, according to Italian news agency ANSA. Preempting the possible broadcast of either video, protesters assembled outside the headquarters of State broadcaster RAI in Rome, calling for the "propaganda" not to be shown on public airwaves, ANSA added.
It is no secret that Berlusconi's party has vowed to pull its vital support from the fragile coalition government if the vote does not go in Berlusconi's favor, with previous warnings coming from loyal party members on the subject, but Berlusconi's behavior appears increasingly erratic.
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"The situation remains fluid and unpredictable," one analyst warned, though he believed the final vote on Berlusconi's future would be tactically delayed.
"Berlusconi feels he is under personal attack and is running short of time and cards to play," Wolfango Piccoli, managing director of Teneo Intelligence, said this week. "There is still no agreement concerning Berlusconi's future in politics [but] cognizant of the high risks involved, the main political parties have opted to slow down the parliamentary process and opted to defer a possible showdown vote," he added.
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A final vote on the Senate floor on Berlusconi's ineligibility is unlikely to take place before mid-October, Piccoli said, attributing a delay to legal formalities and appeal processes by Berlusconi's lawyers. In the meantime, he added, "periodic bouts of tension (and market volatility) are likely."