Italians vote in key test for Berlusconi

POPULARITY CONTEST::Following a series of recent scandals, support for Silvio Berlusconi has fallen to 31 percent, down from more than 60 percent after his re--election in 2008


Mon, May 16, 2011 - Page 6

Italians voted yesterday in partial local elections with all eyes on the northern business hub of Milan, Italy, a stronghold of embattled Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

The vote yesterday and today is a last major test of Berlusconi’s popularity before his term runs out in 2013 and comes as the flamboyant Italian leader is embroiled in legal and sex scandals.

The center-right incumbent in Milan, Letizia Moratti, is expected to retain her post, but polls show she could be forced into a second round at the end of the month.

The elections involve 1,310 communal administrations — about 16 percent of the total — including Bologna, Milan, Naples and Turin.

Some 13 million of Italy’s 49 million-strong electorate are eligible in the vote, with weak growth and unemployment as well as local -issues such as the ongoing waste disposal crisis in Naples uppermost in voters’ minds.

The billionaire Berlusconi, head of a sprawling media empire, is currently a defendant in three trials in Milan, including one in which he is accused of having sex with an underage prostitute.

Berlusconi has also been hit by the defection of a key ally, parliament speaker Gianfranco Fini and about 40 lawmakers.

His popularity reached a record low of 31 percent in the latest poll last month — down from more than 60 percent after his re--election in 2008.

However, he has remained in power thanks to the support of the Northern League and has gone on the offensive, accusing prosecutors of waging a hate campaign against him and painting his leftist critics as communist extremists.

Polls opened yesterday at 8am and were to close at 10pm, reopening today at 7am until 3pm.

A second round is set for May 29 and 30.