Berlusconi 's popularity keeps him relevant in new Italy turmoil, despite fall from grace

The Associated Press

In this Dec. 4, 2013 photo former Premier Silvio Berlusconi attends the launch of a book "Sale, zucchero e caffe'" (Salt, Sugar and Coffee) by his friend, journalist Bruno Vespa, in Rome. He has been convicted of tax fraud, booted out of the Senate and banned from political office. In any other country, that would be three strikes. But in Italy, Silvio Berlusconi has not lost his political legitimacy, and it will be on full display when he leads his Forza Italia party to meet with Italy’s president to discuss prospects for a new government after Premier Enrico Letta’s resignation Friday. Berlusconi’s reemergence on Italy’s political scene comes just days after a court in Naples put him on trial yet again, this time for allegedly paying a senator 3 million euros ($4 million) to switch parties to bring down a rival government. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

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Renzi contributed directly to re-legitimizing Berlusconi's role in the next phase of Italian politics when he met with him earlier this year to hash out an agreement on a new election law proposal. It remains to be seen whether either of them will still stick to the deal.

However, replacing the flawed election law is one of the mandates of any new Renzi government, especially if he hopes to govern until the end of Parliament's term in 2018.

The political ban prevents Berlusconi from running for office, not from heading a political party. And he's not the only convicted felon influencing Italian politics. Comic Beppe Grillo, leader of the anti-establishment 5 Star Movement party, was convicted of manslaughter for a car crash more than 30 years ago that killed three people.

The question that hounds Berlusconi — and that he always manages to scrape out of — is when will he run out of room to maneuver?

Besides the political corruption trial, Berlusconi is under investigation for witness tampering in trials relating to sex-fueled parties at his villa near Milan. He also is awaiting the final appeal, likely later this year, on his conviction for having paid for sex with a minor and using his influence to cover it up. His seven-year sentence and lifetime political ban were upheld on the first appeal.

Theoretically, Berlusconi is expected to be placed under house arrest and to be doing community service for the tax fraud conviction from sometime in April.

"But who knows if he can find some way to get out of that," D'Alimonte said.

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