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Berlusconi's Return

DW staff (als)April 15, 2008

Silvio Berlusconi won Italy's general elections by an unexpectedly wide margin, claiming the prime minister's office for the third time. He warned that hurdles remain for the country suffering from an economic downturn.

Berlusconi hailing his victory with his arms raised
Italy has had over 60 governments since World War II; Berlusconi will head the newestImage: AP

Italy shifted back to the right as Berlusconi won a third stint at prime minister, and five parties -- including two major voting blocs -- were voted into the country's parliament. Berlusconi said Tuesday, April 15, that he would form his government within a week.

"I will govern for five years," Berlusconi told public television after his center-left rival Walter Veltroni conceded defeat.

"We have difficult months ahead that will require great strength," the conservative billionaire said, offering "an affectionate kiss to all Italians."

Following Berlusconi's clear victory, Veltroni, Rome's former mayor, said: "As is the custom in all Western democracies, I telephoned Berlusconi to acknowledge his victory and wish him good luck in his work."

Veltroni leaving Democratic Party headquarters in Rome
Center-left leader Veltroni conceded defeatImage: AP

With ballot-counting nearly finished, results saw Berlusconi's voting bloc, the People of Freedom (PDL), with an advantage of 41 seats in the Senate, the upper house of parliament, which has 315 elected and seven life-time senators.

The last government under Romano Prodi -- who resigned in January, just months into his five-year term -- had just a two-seat Senate majority. The upper house contributed to Prodi's downfall, when a small party with just three senators withdrew its support for the center-left coalition.

Smaller parties lose out

The PDL, which formed last year, absorbed Berlusconi's Forza Italia and the conservative National Alliance and ran in a coalition with the anti-immigration Northern League of Umberto Bossi.

The left suffered big losses in the election. Veltroni's new bloc, the Democratic Party, excluded the Rainbow Left -- which is composed of Communists and Greens. The Rainbow coalition lost badly, tallying only around 3.5 percent of the Senate vote, compared with 11.5 percent in 2006.

Other smaller parties also polled poorly as over 80 percent of voters supported Berlusconi or Veltroni's blocs. Christian Democratic leader Pier Ferdinando Casini said parliament may have only five parties this time around, compared with some 20 last time -- a major turnaround for Italy's normally fragmented political scene.

"These elections revolutionize the national political geography, marking a decisive step forward by Italy" towards political streamlining and institutional modernization, Massimo Giannini of Rome University told the AFP news agency.

Back in office

After two years in opposition, 71-year-old Berlusconi will return to the prime minister's office for the third time since he swept onto the political stage with Forza Italia. He served as premier for seven months from April 1994 and from 2001-2006.

Ballots being counted at a polling station in Rome
Voter turnout was just over 80 percent -- some 3.5 percent less than in 2006 pollsImage: AP

With his strong mandate, Berlusconi may be successful in pushing reforms through parliament. However, many Italians have lost faith in politics and are skeptical that any government will be able to quickly cure the problems the European Union's fourth-largest economy faces.

"The months and years ahead will be difficult and I am preparing a government ready to last five years," Berlusconi said Monday night.

Big pledges, past corruption allegations

Berlusconi has pledged to cut taxes, reduce public debt, liberalize the economy and crack down on crime. Critics have pointed out that he failed to fulfill pledges to revolutionize Italy when he was in office previously.

The prime minister-elect, who is known as Il Cavaliere (the knight), has also said one-third of his cabinet would be women and promised to improve the employment chances for discouraged youths. He said he would resolve a long-standing garbage dispute in Naples.

The media magnate has been implicated in corruption probesImage: picture-alliance/dpa

Berlusconi held a double-digit lead over Veltroni when campaigning began in February, but that dropped to 6 percent to 7 percent when final pre-election polls were conducted two weeks ago.

Berlusconi has been implicated in numerous corruption probes and tallied a budget deficit equal to 4.4 percent of gross domestic product during his last stint as prime minister.

He said he wanted Franco Frattini -- currently head of justice and security policy at the European Commission -- as his foreign minister and would like to see Gianfranco Fini, his last foreign minister, preside over the lower house of parliament.