Italy faces post-election hangover

Italy nursed a post-election hangover on Wednesday, distressed that centre-left leader Romano Prodi failed to pull off a more emphatic victory and irritated by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s refusal to go quietly.

Giancarlo Traverso, an activist for the centre-left Union coalition, said that their camp was ”convinced” that Prodi would be declared the winner in the end, but ”we thought we would have a bigger margin”.

Berlusconi made ”a lot of false promises and convinced a lot of Italians”, he told Agence France-Presse (AFP) outside Prodi’s headquarters in central Rome.

Meanwhile, the Berlusconi camp disputes some 43 000 votes in the race for the lower house of the Italian Parliament, where the Union’s margin of victory was only 25 000 votes out of a total of nearly 38-million ballots cast.

Gianni Marchetti, a 54-year-old biologist on holiday in Rome from the northern city of Padua, said he hoped a ”new Florida” could be avoided, referring to the United States presidential election in 2000 which hinged on a handful of disputed votes in the south-eastern state.

”It should have been such an easy victory,” Marchetti said, ticking off the flamboyant Berlusconi’s ”notorious gaffes, his negative image overseas, his disastrous economic policies, the impoverishment of the people, Italy’s decline on the world market …”.

While observers widely ruled out foul play in the vote, local officials on Wednesday reported the discovery of five ballot boxes containing hundreds of ballots outside a polling station in a working-class district of Rome.

”At this stage in the investigation it appears that the ballots had been properly tallied, so there’s no need to question the regularity of the vote. But the city has asked for a speedy investigation to find out what happened,” said municipal official Giovanni Hermanin.

Adding to the uncertainty is the likelihood that Prodi will not be asked to form a new government until mid-May, after Parliament chooses a successor to 85-year-old President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, whose mandate expires next month.

The Ansa news agency reported that Prodi, in answer to a question after a brief meeting with Ciampi on Wednesday, said that the president would not be stepping down early.

The world of business was anxious as well. The economic daily Il Sole 24 Ore reflected concerns that political paralysis will delay the implementation of reforms seen as indispensable if Italy is to revitalise its stagnant economy.

”I look with concern at the situation unfolding before us because the government that emerges from these elections will have a precarious majority at a time when great authority is needed to carry out the necessary reforms,” Alliance UniChem boss Stefano Pessina told the paper.

For her part, Maria Rosario Pagano was furious at the outcome of the exceedingly tight race. ”Prodi is a jerk,” said Pagano, an expensively dressed elderly woman. ”Now we can expect a lot of new taxes.”

Berlusconi, she said, is a ”great man”.

Alberto Pisnolini, poring over his choice of the day’s best bets at the racetrack, told AFP he was irritated long before election day arrived, saying he didn’t vote because ”they’re all a bunch of buffoons”. — AFP



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Gina Doggett
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