Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Berlusconi Wins -- Again

Here's the Associated Press's take on the Italian election:

Silvio Berlusconi quickly laid out his strategy Tuesday for resolving Italy's crises, from its ailing national airline to garbage in Naples, a day after the media mogul triumphed in parliamentary elections.

Bolstered by right-wing allies -- an anti-immigrant party and a former neo-fascist grouping -- the 71-year-old media magnate emerged from the election with a generous majority in both the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate.

Berlusconi's forces will need a solid command of Parliament if they are to make headway in solving long-simmering economic and social problems, including ones that plagued his 2001-2006 government, Italy's longest since the end of World War II.

Unemployment among youth has run high for years, prices of consumer goods have been sharply rising, inflation is at its highest levels in years, garbage has been piling up in Naples and other southern cities and the sale of airline Alitalia has been foundering.

Berlusconi announced his plans to tackle Italy's problems even before he has been formally tapped to form the next government. Italy's president was expected to ask him to try to form a government, but it was unclear when that would be, and each chamber of Parliament must give his government the required vote of confidence -- a process that could take a couple of weeks.

In his first comments Tuesday, Berlusconi reminded Italians he planned to keep his campaign promise of holding his first Cabinet meeting in Naples, where residents had been burning garbage clogging the streets.

''I will be in Naples three days a week'' to deal with the trash problem, he said on state radio. Berlusconi scored big among Naples voters, results showed.

Berlusconi also promised to save Alitalia for Italians -- which could doom attempts sell the failing carrier to Air France-KLM. During the campaign, Berlusconi called for Italian investors to come forward.

The conservative tide of voters also swept the Communists out of the next legislature -- a group Berlusconi loves to hate. The staunch United States ally set out to foil the Communists when he burst into politics nearly 15 years ago.

The Communists, whose fickle coalition support had helped to doom the center-left government of Romano Prodi, failed to win the minimum percentage needed to enter Parliament.

Also failing to make the cut were the Socialists, who for decades had been a key force in postwar governments.

''The country in this moment has turned in a big way to the right,'' said Bobo Craxi, a politician who is the son of Bettino Craxi, the late Socialist premier.

This was Berlusconi's fifth consecutive national campaign since 1994, when he stepped into politics from his media empire, currently estimated at $9.4 billion. He has fended off challenges to his leadership by conservative allies and survived conflict of interests accusations and criminal trials.

When he was last premier, Berlusconi defied widespread anti-war sentiment in Italy and sent 3,000 troops to Iraq over the protests of thousands of Italians in the streets. The contingent has since been withdrawn.

This time he has ruled out sending new troops to Iraq, but his friendship with the U.S. is not in doubt.

Berlusconi held off a strong final campaign sprint by his main rival, Walter Veltroni, a former Rome mayor.

In the 315-member Senate, Berlusconi was projected to control at least 167 seats to Veltroni's 130, with the other seats going to minor parties, according to a final count of ballots cast in Italy. Overseas votes still needed to be counted, and what is considered to be a largely conservative constituency abroad might only swell Berlusconi's margin in the upper house.

In the lower house, Berlusconi's conservative bloc led by 46 percent of the vote to 39 percent, final results showed.

In his comeback, Berlusconi was helped by a strong showing by the Northern League, an important ally, which won over 8 percent of the vote, an impressing showing for a regional party.

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