May 30, 2006

Prodi’s bloc takes big cities in Italy local polls

By Silvia Aloisi

ROME (Reuters) - Prime Minister Romano Prodi's centre-left
coalition swept three big cities in Italy's local polls,
comfortably passing its first test at the ballot box since its
narrow victory in last month's general election.

Votes were still being counted in some regions on Tuesday
morning but provisional results put the center left way ahead
in Rome, Turin and Naples. Silvio Berlusconi's center right
looked set to win in Milan but by a smaller margin than

The polls could strengthen Prodi's hand as he tackles
deteriorating public accounts that may trigger a downgrade of
Italy's debt by rating agencies unless he can push through
unpopular reforms with his razor-thin majority.

The results were certain to disappoint Berlusconi, who had
hoped for a swift comeback after losing power in the closest
election in Italy's post-war history.

"The failed revenge," was the headline of a front-page
editorial in left-leaning La Repubblica on Tuesday.

The two-day vote across more than 1,260 cities and towns
ended on Monday afternoon. Results trickled through the night.

"From the data I have, it has gone very well," Prodi told
reporters late on Monday. "Apart from Milan ... the other
cities, the most important ones, are in our hands," he said.

Even in the financial capital Milan, a centre-right
stronghold and Berlusconi's home-turf, the media tycoon's
coalition struggled more than expected. But by Tuesday morning
its victory appeared certain with no need for a second round.


Prodi's bloc appeared to have increased its share of the
vote in all the large cities compared with the last mayoral
elections five years ago.

In Rome, incumbent mayor Walter Veltroni was credited with
around 61.4 percent of the vote, up from 58.2 percent in 2001.

In Milan, Berlusconi's candidate, former Education Minister
Letizia Moratti, was projected to take 51.9 percent of the
vote, Her centre-right predecessor had won in 2001 with 57.5

In Turin, the centre-left incumbent grabbed 66.6 percent
support, boosting Prodi's bid to bridge a north-south divide
highlighted by the April vote and partly undermine Berlusconi's
claim that the richer part of the country backs him.

Provisional results also gave a good lead to the
centre-left incumbent in Naples, where Berlusconi had hoped to
upset Prodi.

"If Berlusconi's idea was revenge, what he got was another
taste of defeat," said Deputy Prime Minister Massimo D'Alema.

Analysts said lower voter turnout penalised Berlusconi,
whose centre-right tends to have more trouble getting its
supporters to polls. Only 71.2 percent of voters cast ballots,
compared with 80.6 percent in the last mayoral election.

Berlusconi had some good news from Sicily, where
centre-right governor Salvatore Cuffaro won re-election, as
expected. Cuffaro is on trial accused of aiding and abetting
the Mafia. He denies all charges.

Prodi had fielded Rita Borsellino, sister of slain
anti-Mafia magistrate Paolo Borsellino, who was killed in 1992.

Second-round run-off ballots will be held on June 11-12.