Senate speaker under fire for Berlusconi vote 'insinuations'

(ANSA) - Rome, October 23 - Senate Speaker Pietro Grasso came under heavy fire from Silvio Berlusconi's People of Freedom (PdL) party on Wednesday for suggesting a vote on whether to eject the ex-premier from parliament should not be secret in order to ensure it is untainted.

The floor of the Upper House is expected to vote next month on whether to strip Berlusconi of his Senate seat on the basis of a 2012 anti-corruption law after a tax-fraud conviction against the 77-year-old was upheld by the supreme court, making it definitive.

The centre-right PdL says the existing rules that state the ballot should be secret should apply.

But many lawmakers in Premier Enrico Letta's centre-left Democratic Party (PD) and the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement (M5S) want the rules changed because they fear a secret ballot would help Berlusconi to persuade lawmakers to break their parties' line and vote for him to keep his seat.

Grasso, a PD member and former national anti-Mafia prosecutor, seemed to side with them on Tuesday.

"If it's a secret vote, it'll be necessary to see whether it really is a vote of conscience or whether it depends on other interests," he said.

"If it's an open vote, everything will be clearer".

This stirred an angry reaction from his predecessor as Senate Speaker, Renato Schifani.

"It's extremely serious that Speaker Grasso is talking about the possibility of an open vote, as the regulations on this issue are clear and unequivocal," said Schifani, who is now the PdL's Senate whip.

"It's incredible to suspect that Senators could pursue interests other than their conscience in a secret vote and we hope that it's an unfortunate misunderstanding.

"Clarification would be opportune".

Renato Brunetta, the PdL's Lower House whip, said Grasso was guilty of making a "very serious insinuation".

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