Berlusconi victorious in Italy’s elections

Regional vote seen as test of support

In the last couple of weeks, Berlusconi went on the offensive and stepped up his campaign. In the last couple of weeks, Berlusconi went on the offensive and stepped up his campaign.
By Alessandra Rizzo
Associated Press / March 31, 2010

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ROME — Premier Silvio Berlusconi emerged as the victor in regional elections held across Italy and widely depicted as a test of his popularity, final returns showed yesterday.

Berlusconi’s coalition won crucial races and wrested control of four regions from the opposition.

The Northern League, an anti-immigration party and government ally, also fared very strongly, and will probably see its national influence significantly increase.

Overall, the conservatives won six regions — compared with the two they controlled going into the vote — while the center-left opposition held on to seven.

For Berlusconi, the success means a strong popular endorsement for the remaining three years of his mandate.

It gives the Italian leader momentum to push through controversial reforms, including overhauling the justice system.

“This result is the best recognition for the work done by the government,’’ Berlusconi said, and an encouragement “to carry out, in this second half of the Legislature, reforms that are necessary to modernize the country.’’

The most resounding success for Berlusconi came overnight in two races that went down to the wire: Lazio, which includes the capital; and Piedmont, a big region in the country’s industrial north.

Both were previously held by the opposition.

Final turnout stood at 64 percent — high by the standards of many Western democracies, but 8 percent down from the last Italian regional elections in 2005. Around 41 million people were eligible to cast ballots in the country of 60 million.

Analysts had predicted that a low turnout would hurt the governing power — as it did with President Nicolas Sarkozy in recent regional balloting in France.

But Berlusconi repeatedly urged his supporters to go to the polls ahead of the vote Sunday and Monday.

In the last couple of weeks, the 73-year-old premier went on the offensive and stepped up his campaign through numerous media appearances and a big rally in Rome.

In the end, the voters who deserted the polls appeared to come from both sides.

Almost two years into his current premiership, Berlusconi appeared vulnerable coming into the election, making his success all the more significant.

His popularity has been falling as Italians grow concerned by job losses, frightened by the country’s economic future, and increasingly detached from a political class mired in corruption scandals.