German and European editorials were harsh in their criticism of Silvio Berlusconi's contribution to the commedia dell'arte of Italian politics. But very few dared to venture an answer to the question: What next?
It was not exaclty a convincing victory for Romano Prodi
In an editorial entitled "Prodi's bitter victory," the German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung asked whether one should congratulate Prodi on his victory since "the dead hand of his predecessor Silvio Berlusconi is enormous. The country is divided and demoralized like rarely before. And the problem lies not only in state finances or economics, which are now in a precarious condition. The problem is much bigger: The new government must also revive Italy politically and morally in order to heal the wounds inflicted by Berlusconismus."
The Italian daily La Repubblica commented on the political deadlock that will most likely come out of the elections. "The trap has snapped. It is as if Italy has been stung by a poisonous scorpion: It cannot build a new government, but it also can't keep the old one. A perfect metaphor of Italy, which is not becoming a 'Prodiland', but already finds itself in a post-Berlusconi phase. (…) What should happen now is difficult to say. Options range from a provisional government to a grand coalition. If no majority camp is ready to risk ruling with only one vote advantage in the senate, then it would be most probable that in a few months Italy would go voting again."
Utter failure or moderate success?
His self-confidence bordered on despair: Silvio Berlusconi during the campaign
Looking back at the fierce election campaign, the Berlin leftist daly taz said that Berlusconi tried to win by making lots of promises: "But he himself acted as a travelling salesman, who doesn't believe in his own lies anymore. In the end, his campaign turned into a caricature of his former triumphs. At first, he held out the abolition of land tax; then, on the last campaign day, he put the cherry on top by promising a total elimination of garbage collection fees. But the voters, inoculated by five years of Berlusconi, couldn't be lured by pocket money any longer."
The Swiss daily Neue Zürcher Zeitung, on the other hand, commented on Berlusconi's ability to draw voters, despite his questionable campaign tactics. "The prime minister's affronts and authoritarian outbursts, obscene insults and verbal attacks in the last days have had no negative effect on him and his camp. Italy hardly ever experienced an election campaign that was this edgy and poisonous. It was certainly not a special form of Italian passion that drove Berlusconi, but rather naked despair that a dazzling victory could be lying out of his range. (…) Regardless of the questions of decency and style, Berlusconi, with his omnipresent appearances on TV shows, managed to mobilize the voters. The fact that the rules of equal treatment were often broken along the way plays no role in retrospect."
A step forward
Many Italian voters didn't necessarily vote for Prodi, but against Berlusconi
The Russian daily Kommersant stressed that Berlusconi didn't win even though he had the media on his side. "It is hard to speak about the triumph of the left in Italy. Prime minister Silvio Berlusconi did not lose against Romano Prodi but against himself. That's the lesson of the elections. We are witnessing the destruction of the myth of omnipotent media. Berlusconi went into the elections full of optimism, because he thought that -- with the media as his most important weapon -- he could change the poll results to his own advantage. The voters, however, turned out to be much more independent in their judgement than all the policy managers, media expert and even Berlusconi himself had thought. That's what voters should be like in a mature democracy. And that's exactly why Berlusconi lost against himself."
The liberal Austrian daily Standard cautiously concluded that Berlusconi's loss was a watershed moment. "Silvio Berlusconi down in the dumps. Romano Prodi on the road to victory. With all caution: if the final results of the Italian parliamentary elections turn out the way they seemed on Monday evening, the Italians (and the Europeans along with them) will have experienced a great caesura: the rule of the media, Peronism for the wealthy and unscrupulous manipulation of the state for personal interests are no longer capable of winning a majority in Italy."