Tags: Berlusconi | Italy | leftists | regional

Berlusconi Coalition Ousts Regional Leftists

Monday, 29 Mar 2010 08:45 PM


ROME - The centre-right coalition of embattled Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi on Monday wrested control of four regions from the centre-left despite flagging approval ratings reflected in a dismal turnout.

The uneasy coalition of Berlusconi's People of Freedom (PDL) party and the anti-immigration Northern League won two extremely close contests, in Rome's Lazio region as well as northern Piedmont, partial results showed.

The coalition also took control of southern Calabria and Campania in the two-day vote in 13 of Italy's 20 regions while holding on to the northern strongholds of Lombardy and Veneto, bringing its total take to six regions.

Renata Polverini, head of the right-wing trade union UGL, was the coalition's candidate to become Lazio's next governor, and she squeaked by former European commissioner Emma Bonino, a libertarian standing for the centre-left Democratic Party (PD).

Polverini will replace the PD's Piero Marrazzo, who resigned in October on the eve of a party leadership vote after police were accused of blackmailing him with a video allegedly showing him with a transsexual prostitute.

Marrazzo says the video is a fake.

The left held on to seven other regions including its Tuscany and Emilia-Romagna strongholds.

Turnout was the lowest in 15 years at 64.2 percent, eight percentage points down on the last regional vote five years ago.

Pollsters said the electorate was registering dissatisfaction with the government's handling of the country's worst recession since World War II as well as a series of sex, corruption and electoral scandals.

Osvaldo Napoli, a prominent PDL figure, said before the vote that a turnout of under 70 percent "would penalise us".

Announcing the turnout figures, Interior Minister Roberto Maroni said: "We should see to it that participation is stronger in the next elections in three years."

Major gains by the Northern League are likely to embolden it to demand a new cabinet post and the city hall in Berlusconi's native Milan, Italy's economic and financial capital, analysts said ahead of the vote.

A resurgent Northern League could also further alienate a key Berlusconi ally, parliament speaker Gianfranco Fini, who is often tipped as a successor to the three-time prime minister.

The Northern League was an essential ally in Berlusconi's return to power in 2008, campaigning on pledges of cracking down on illegal immigration
and crime, often linking the two.

The turnout shortfall was in the double digits in Lazio, where the PDL failed to submit its list by the deadline.

An electoral court allowed Polverini to stand but without a list of locally well-known PDL figures running for the key region's assembly.

Berlusconi has seen his approval rating slip to 44 from a high of 62 percent in October 2008, with his government scoring only 38 percent in a recent survey.

After a year in which the billionaire leader has been dogged by scandal over his private life and corruption probes involving his sprawling media empire, the February arrests of PDL members accused of accepting kickbacks added to his woes.

On Monday the daily Il Giornale, owned by Berlusconi's brother Paolo, conceded that "the people of the centre-right have a few reasons to be in a bad mood" but warned in its front-page banner headline: "Only a Few Hours Remain to Stop the Left!"

Copyright © 2010 AFP. All rights reserved.

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2010-45-29
Monday, 29 Mar 2010 08:45 PM
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