By Francesca Piscioneri
ROME (Reuters) – Italy will hold a general election on
April 9, 2006, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said on
Tuesday, confirming speculation that the vote would be held a
month ahead of schedule.
Only President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi can decide when to call
an election, but he has already indicated he wants an early
ballot to give the new government more time to tackle an
unusually heavy workload before summer holidays next year.
Newspapers had reported that Berlusconi was unhappy with
the idea and wanted to remain in office until the end of his
mandate in May 2006, to give the sluggish Italian economy more
time to bounce back from a recent recession.
But the prime minister told reporters on Tuesday that an
election date had been set.
“I think the Interior Ministry has confirmed that the
parliamentary elections will be on April 9,” he said.
Berlusconi swept to power in April 2001 at the head of a
center-right coalition and has deftly managed to hold his
alliance together despite rows and ministerial resignations.
But his popularity has been hit by Italy’s poor economic
performance, and the center-left opposition, led by former
European Commission President Romano Prodi, is confident it
will triumph at the polls.
On Sunday Prodi won U.S.-style primary elections called to
choose the center-left’s candidate for prime minister, taking
almost 75 percent of the vote.
He is the only person to have beaten Berlusconi in a
general election, defeating the businessman-turned-politician
in a 1996 vote — though Prodi’s government fell after two
years in power.
Before parliament is dissolved a few weeks before the April
vote, it will have time to approve the 2006 budget and some
controversial government bills, including an electoral reform
that critics say will favor Berlusconi.
One of the first tasks of the new parliament will be to
choose a successor to Ciampi, whose seven-year term ends in
May. It will also have to draw up a four-year economic program
In Italy, it normally takes well over a month to form a
government after a general election and Ciampi is worried that
if the ballot is held as scheduled toward the end of May, the
new parliament will immediately face a logjam of work.
Prodi called on Monday for the general election to be held
in April at the same time as a major round of local elections,
saying this would save the cash-strapped state some 150 million
But Berlusconi rejected the proposal on Tuesday, saying the
general election was too important to risk confusing the
national campaign with local issues. The local elections will
be held by the end of May, he said.