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With Bated Breath..... PDF Print E-mail
May 28, 2011 at 10:51 PM

Image
Milan Mayor Moratti after voting on Sunday

That is how the Italians who are praying for the end of the Berlusconi era are feeling this morning as their compatriots go to the polls for run-off local elections in Milan, where the incumbent mayor is expected to have a hard-time getting re-elected, and in Naples, where a left-wing candidate and former prosecutor is facing down the candidate representing the PdL, the increasingly wobbly "People of Freedom", Berlusconi-led coalition.

The controversial Italian premier has said that even if both Giuliano Pisapia, in Milan, and Luigi de Magistris in Naples, are victorious nothing will change on the national level where a new vote is not scheduled until 2013. But should one or both of the opposition candidates prevail, especially Mr. Pisapia in Milan, it could be the beginning of a new era in Italian politics.

 

Nevertheless, anyone wanting to cry victory right now should be cautious, as electoral behaviour is often difficult to predict in current-day Italy and halfway through Sunday, the voter turnout is up significantly in Milan compared to two Sundays ago - which could mean....anything.

wo weeks ago, the center-left candidate, Giuliano Pisapia, beat Letizia Moratti, the conservative incumbent mayor, by more than six percentage points - 48 to 41.6 percent - making today's two-day run-off election inevitable in the city that is considered Italy's northern capital. In Naples, De Magistris's PdL opponent, Gianni Lettieri, led the field of six candidates but did not get enough votes for immediate election, leading De Magistris by 11 points. In today's second round, De Magistris - a candidate for a maverick leftwing party - should be able to count on the support of the PD, the mainstream center-left party, so there is no telling what will happen.

The regularly-scheduled vote two weeks ago brought almost a fifth of Italian voters to the polls in close to 1300 municipalities countrywide but the battleground cities, aside from Milan and Naples, were Turin and Bologna. In Turin, the left easily won re-election to the Turin city hall. In Bologna, although many leftwing voters defected to a maverick candidate, the PD candidate easily defeated the PdL exponent, a member of Berlusconi's Northern league ally.

Obviously stunned by the results of the Milan vote (Milan, is after all, his city and Berlusconi led the PdL's electoral list), Berlusconi has been campaigning like mad, trying to turn the mayoral campaign into a personal beauty contest. For the most part, he has been claiming that Pisapia, a successful lawyer with a radical chic leftwing background will: allow the city to be overrun by gypsies, illegal immigrants, Moslem fundamentalists and left-wing squatters and turn it into a Stalingrad, a heavily industrialized Russian city named after the Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin and which was the site of the bloodiest battle of World War Two.

It is hard to know what kind of Italians are susceptible to what I believe to be pure nonsense because no one I know or who I run into accords Berlusconi any credibility on these matters. But surely there must be many since Berlusconi, though to my mind objectionable on many counts, is clearly a very smart cookie.

Also hard for someone like me to fathom, is how anyone can go along with his main war cry, which is that against the country's magistrates whom he describes a "cancer on democracy", a viewpoint that clearly reflects his own ongoing travails with the Italian justice system. Embarassingly, for many Italians, he felt he had to repeat this - on two occasions - at the recent G8 Summit in France, at one point using a few minutes alone with U.S. president Obama to talk about how Italian prosecutors have been persecuting him for decades.

On Mondays for the past few weeks, Mr. Berlusconi has been appearing in court hearings here in four separate cases involving charges of corruption, tax fraud, abuse of office and having sex with an underage prostitute. He insists that these are all trumped up charges by leftwing magistrates seeking to oust him from office even though such an eventuality should be reserved to the Parliament. He uses terms such as "reds" or "subversives" despite the fact that we are now in the year 2011 and the Italian Communist party long ago transformed itself into a party of European social democrats.

Although Berlusconi says he will not resign if Ms. Moratti is defeated, there is a chance he may not have any choice. His key ally the Northern League has been insisting it won't be dragged down by the PdL and if Berlusconi finds himself seriously weakened may start being even more rambunctious than usual. But more about this when....and if.

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