October 30, 2013 - 19:14 AMT
PanARMENIAN.Net - Italy's Senate will hold an open vote next month on whether to expel Silvio Berlusconi from parliament because of a tax fraud conviction, after an upper house committee narrowly rejected his bid to make the ballot secret, Reuters said.
The decision has been the subject of intense wrangling, with the billionaire media magnate's political enemies fearing a secret vote might allow him to escape expulsion through backroom dealings.
A special Senate panel voted by 7 to 6 in favor of an open vote, overruling objections from Berlusconi's People of Freedom (PDL) party, which argued that votes on individual senators are traditionally held in secret.
"The panel has voted but it's given birth to a constitutional monster," PDL Senator Anna Maria Bernini told reporters. "This was a decision aimed against one person."
No date has yet been set for the vote, but the Senate agenda is full until November 22, requiring a change to the timetable if the ballot is to be held before then.
Berlusconi is expected to lose his seat in the upper house following his conviction in August for a giant tax fraud at his Mediaset television empire.
But the expulsion procedure is proving long and divisive, with the PDL repeatedly trying to delay the vote, which would strip its leader of parliamentary immunity and leave him open to arrest in any of a string of other cases.
Wednesday's decision prompted a flood of anger from Berlusconi's supporters, stoking tensions in Prime Minister Enrico Letta's unwieldy coalition between the PDL and the center-left Democratic Party (PD).
"Democracy was murdered in the Senate today," said Daniela Santanche, one of the 77-year-old leader's most hardline loyalists. "How can anyone still maintain on the basis of some false idea of stability that this government serves the country?"