Analysts say Italy will have to cope with weeks of political and economic uncertainty as Prime Minister Berlusconi rejected a general election result. But the prospect of a US-style recount drama isn't likely in Italy.
Prodi's the official winner, but Berlusconi won't concede
Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has demanded a recount of thousands of disputed ballots in the last gamble of a rollercoaster election in Italy. Voters this week handed power to his center-left rival Romano Prodi in the tightest election in living memory. A margin of just 25,000 votes contributed to Prodi's victory.
"What can possibly happen that hasn't already?" said Roberto D'Altimonte, a political scientist at Florence University. "Well, this is Italy, so anything can happen."
The prospect of an extended battle over the outcome of the vote threw up the possibility of a lengthy delay in naming the new government. It put Prodi's priority of reviving a dilapidated economy on the back burner.
"We're now going to have a legal battle on the recounting of the contested ballots, so I expect the uncertainty to continue," D'Altimonte said. He said it could take weeks, depending on what Berlusconi wanted to recount -- the contested 43,000 ballots or the entirety of the invalid ballots.
D'Altimonte said a large proportion of the one million ballots declared invalid in the election for the lower house were considered "spoiled" in the first count by polling monitors for both coalitions. But they could also now be subject to recount.
The rest is made up of the "contested" ballots -- on whose validity party monitors could not agree -- and blank ballots.
A bout of flu could erase the majority
James Newell, an Italian politics specialist at Salford University, said the razor-thin margin of Prodi's victory troubled him.
"It leaves us with a government with little legitimacy," Newell said. "They have a very slim majority in the Senate, and in the chamber (of deputies). They will be exposed to constant attack by the opposition, who can claim the support of half the country."
Romano Prodi is certain of his victory
Political analyst Andrea Vannucci said it would only take one bout of flu to erase the Prodi alliance's one or possibly two-seat majority in the 315-seat upper house.
For that reason, the center-left coalition would likely forego the privilege of retaining the post of Senate speaker, who is not allowed to vote, Vannucci said.
"It was a polite habit up until about 10 years ago to hand it to the opposition," Vannucci said.
Italy isn't Germany
Analysts discounted an apparent overture by the 69-year-old prime minister to Prodi about forming a German-style "grand coalition" to share power.
Could Prodi and Berlusconi work together? Probably not, say analysts
"It's a good thing for him to say because it makes it seem like he's the one seeking national harmony," D'Altimonte said.
"But this is not Germany, this is Italy, and you have to ask where the Refoundation Communists would fit in," D'Altimonte said. "Can Prodi afford to leave them out? Could Berlusconi work with them?"
US-style recount is unlikely in Italy
Vannucci said Berlusconi's brinkmanship was unlikely to derail the new government. The prospect of a US-style recount drama was remote in Italy.
"The recount idea is an obvious move by Berlusconi given the closeness of the vote," he said. "It's very unlikely it will change anything, because of the strength of the Italian system. It's not a Florida-type situation."
The election posters can come down, despite the current standstill
Rome-based political scientist James Walston questioned what might happen if the stalemate continued, particularly given that one of the first duties of the new parliament will be to elect a new state president.
"The nightmare scenario is that if we don't have a government by May 18, when President (Carlo Azeglio) Ciampi's mandate is up, then we don't have a head of state either," Walston said.
"That is a possibility if Berlusconi does really stop everything," he said. "Then things will really get interesting."