Rome: Italian centre-right leader Silvio Berlusconi faces one of the heaviest blows of his 20-year political career on Wednesday when the Senate votes on stripping him of his seat in Parliament over a conviction for tax fraud.
The vote will be the culmination of months of political wrangling and is almost certain to lead to Berlusconi`s expulsion from the upper house, opening an uncertain new phase for one of Italy`s most divisive political figures.
The 77-year-old media billionaire, who has dominated politics for two decades, has already pulled his party out of Prime Minister Enrico Letta`s ruling coalition after seven months in government, accusing leftwing opponents of mounting a "coup d`etat" to eliminate him.
The Senate is due to vote at around 7.00 pm (1800 GMT) to declare Berlusconi ineligible for Parliament after he was convicted of masterminding a complex system of illegally inflated invoices to cut the tax bill for his Mediaset television empire.
The court sentenced him to four years in jail, commuted to a year likely to be spent performing community service, and he was also banned from holding public office for two years, preventing any immediate return to government.
Under a law passed with Berlusconi`s support last year, politicians convicted of serious criminal offences are ineligible for Parliament, but his expulsion must first be confirmed by a full vote in the Senate.
Both Letta`s centre-left Democratic Party (PD) and former comedian Beppe Grillo`s anti-establishment 5-Star Movement have declared they will vote against Berlusconi, making it virtually certain that he will be expelled.
His removal will have little immediate impact on Letta`s government, which survived a confidence vote on the 2014 budget on Tuesday with the help of a group of some 30 centre-right senators who broke away from Berlusconi`s party this month.
But it will heighten the political tensions that have hampered any serious reforms to Italy`s stagnant economy, struggling with youth unemployment of more than 40 percent and stuck in a recession that has lasted more than two years.