Prodi Claims Victory in Italy

Italy's centre-left coalition has claimed victory in the country's knife-edge general election, but political gridlock is looming after prime minister Silvio Berlusconi demanded a review of the vote.

Prodi Claims Victory in Italy

Official results on Tuesday showed that the Olive Tree coalition led by Romano Prodi took 49.8% of the vote in the lower house of parliament, compared to 49.7% for Berlusconi. Prodi also looked set for a victory in the Senate by one or two seats thanks to overseas voters, whose votes were still being counted.

The upper house, the Senate, and the lower Chamber of Deputies have equal powers, and any coalition would have to control both in order to form a government. However such a narrow margin has been contested by the right and were he to form a split government Prodi would have great difficulty in introducing reforms. Speaking to supporters, gathered in a Rome Square on Tuesday, Prodi said: "We have won, and now we have to start working to implement our programme and unify the country."

However many analaysts predict the result will see a return to a revolving door political culture that has seen Italy ruled by 61 governments in as many years. Il Riformista newspaper declared "Italy is split" after the tighest electoral contest in modern Italian history. The outgoing administration, headed by Berlusconi for the past five years, is the longest serving Italian government in post-war history.

National division

Pietro Bianchi, a banker from Milan, told Reuters: "Both sides were at a pretty low standard... I think we'll have a government that lasts six months and then parliament will fall apart and we will have to vote again." The tight, fluctuating contest has revealed divisions in Italy over major issues.

Italians were mainly preoccupied by economic worries. Berlusconi promised to abolish a homeowner's property tax. Prodi said he would revive an inheritance tax abolished by Berlusconi, but only for the richest. He also promised to cut payroll taxes to try to spur hiring. Voter turnout was in the two-day vote about 84%, the interior ministry said.

Iraq War

Prodi, the former European Commission president, highlighted in his campaign issues like unemployment, crime, the economy and the war in Iraq, blaming Berlusconi for involving Italy in the US-led occupation of the oil-rich country. Berlusconi's alliance with US President George Bush came under heavy fire following the March killing by US forces of Italian intelligence officer Nicola Calipari while escorting freed Italian hostage Giuliana Sgrena.

Berlusconi personally edited the report on the killing to ensure it would be less critical of the Americans, newspapers have charged. Prodi said in July that if he won the parliamentary elections he would pull Italian troops out of Iraq as they are seen as an occupying force. "The nature of our mission must change: our forces have been seen and continue to be seen as occupation troops," he said.

Berlusconi's campaign, on the other hand, was characterized by insults, notably his use of "coglione," a slang word used to infer someone is an idiot, to describe centre-left voters. The jibe backfired, and ever since the opposition supporters have hit back with the slogan "I'm a coglione" sprouting up everywhere from posters to T-shirts.

Serious Prodi

Unlike the razzmatazz beloved of his opponent, Prodi is methodical and demure, even to the point of infuriating his own supporters at times, according to AFP. One of his campaign posters rather drearily urges Italians to vote Prodi "for seriousness in government."

While Berlusconi has tried to galvanize Italians with a grand vision of a more prosperous future, Prodi has based his campaign on cleaning up the public finances and returning to morals in politics, a dig at Berlusconi's constant brushes with the courts over his business activities.

One of the few jokes he cracked along the way came when he mocked Berlusconi's pride in his government's "grande opere," the Italian term for massive infrastructural schemes. Prodi said the prime minister's biggest infrastructural achievement was a facelift and hair transplant which make him look a decade younger than his 69 years.

Born in Bologna in 1939, Prodi began his political career as industry minister in the government of Giulio Andreotti in 1978-79. From 1982 to 1989 he was head of the state holding company IRI, which he helped privatize, before returning to full-time politics.

When he helped form the Olive Tree center-left coalition to contest the April 1996 election, he was initially seen as a technocrat lacking charisma and uncomfortable on television, but he won voters round with his avuncular style. Though he lasted only 18 months as premier before his communist coalition partners turned against his cost-cutting economic policies in October 1997, Prodi carved out an international reputation which belied his mild-mannered image.

For a country that prides itself on being one of the six EU founders, a failure to make it into the euro would have been a national disaster. That Prodi was able to avert this was partly due to his ability to distance himself from Italy's political and media circus, instead channeling all his energies into modernization and constitutional reform.


 

Last Mod: 20 Eylül 2018, 18:16
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