Why Silvio Berlusconi's Jail Sentence Could Be A Disaster For Italy

Yesterday, Silvio Berlusconi’s luck ran out. Italy’s highest court ruled that the decisions made by two lower courts in a tax fraud case were correct, and that the former Italian Prime Minister should serve jail time.

In a mild note of appeasement, Rome’s Court of Cassation decided that a ban on Berlusconi seeking public office for five years would need to be reviewed, but it seems likely that Berlusconi will be banned from office and face one year of house arrest.

Many Italians were probably thrilled with the news. Italy’s longest serving post-war prime minister had a reputation for corruption and debauchery, but he had never definitively been convicted of a crime. Finally, according to Italian law, Berlusconi was a criminal.

However, this isn’t good news for Italy. Berlusconi’s center-right PdL party forms half of a coalition government with Prime Minister Enrico Letta’s center-left Democratic Party (PD). The entire point of this uncomfortable coalition is to so the government can focus on fixing Italy’s ailing economy. The smooth cooperation of both sides is key to keeping Italy on the straight and narrow.

The verdict has clearly rocked the boat. The New York Times reports that opposition leaders are calling for Berlusconi to immediately resign from Parliament, while the Guardian reports that PD members are beginning to question their partnership with Berlusconi and his party.

Also, Berlusconi’s side won’t go down without a fight. Despite this week’s verdict (not to mention the underage prostitution case and the illegal wiretapping case), Berlusconi issued an angry video rant today that accused Italy’s judicial system of trying to “take away my personal freedom and political rights.”

Now there are reports that his PdL allies are preparing to resign in a bid to force a presidential pardon. Berlusconi has reportedly told PdL party members there are only two options — a push for judicial reform or new elections in Italy.

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