Italy's local elections test popularity of Berlusconi

09:09, May 17, 2011      

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Millions of Italians completed voting on Monday in local elections that tested how much fraud and minor sex charges have damaged premier Silvio Berlusconi.

Voting began early Sunday and polls close at 3 p.m. Monday in 1, 177 Italian cities, towns and provinces.

In Milan, the premier's hometown and considered the capital of his People of Freedom (PDL) party, Berlusconi's candidate and incumbent mayor Letizia Moratti was 6-7 points behind the candidate of the largest opposition group Democratic Party (PD), Giuliano Pisapia, an attorney.

Pisapia did not win the 50 percent mark needed to win in the first round, which will force a second-round run-off in two weeks time.

In a recent televised debate, Moratti accused Pisapia of having backed violent demonstrations by leftist protesters in the past, while the PD opponent opposed her building plan, noting Milan already has as many as 80,000 empty apartments and 900,000 square meters of unoccupied office space.

Berlusconi boosted flagging support for Moratti by putting his name on the top of the ticket and stumping on her behalf.

According to Italian ANSA news agency, a PDL loss in Milan would have a big impact on Berlusconi's government dynamics.

"The outcome cannot be questioned, there is a change of trend, in the north too, where the center-right coalition PDL-Northern League is starting to shake," PD leader Pier Luigi Bersani was quoted by ANSA as saying.

Other battleground city Turin remained in opposition hands, as also Bologna, while Naples will go to a second-round run-off. Elections were not held in Rome.

The Sunday-Monday vote by almost a quarter of the Italian population was the first electoral test since Berlusconi was hit by charges of sex with an underage prostitute and abuse of power, and will be the last before general elections scheduled for 2013.

Turnout was a good two-three percentage points down on the last local elections, something which observers saw as indicating that many Italians are fed up with politics in general.

Source: Xinhua
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