- The Washington Times - Monday, May 14, 2001


ROME — Projections early today showed media baron Silvio Berlusconi holding a narrow lead in both chambers of Parliament in his bid to win back Italys premiership along with a coalition of right-wing allies.
The projections, announced on state TV, indicated his center-right coalition would win 43 percent of the Senate, or upper house of Parliament, after elections yesterday. Mr. Berlusconis center-left rival, former Rome Mayor Francesco Rutelli, would take 39.1 percent.
Mr. Berlusconis center-right coalition was projected to win 46 percent of the directly elected seats in the larger, lower Chamber of Deputies, with 43.1 percent projected to go to Mr. Rutellis bloc. Seventy-five percent of the chambers 630 seats are directly elected, while the remaining 25 percent are assigned based on the proportion of parties vote.
The Abacus polling institute said the Senate projections were based on 80 percent of the 1,900 precincts in its sample and the Chamber projections were based on 35 percent.
The Interior Ministrys count of actual votes gave Mr. Berlusconis bloc 41.5 percent in the Senate and Mr. Rutellis forces 39.9 percent, with some 42 percent of all 60,000 precincts reporting. Mr. Berlusconis vote was slowly rising as votes were being counted.
Some of the 49.5 million Italian voters were still casting ballots more than four hours after the 10 p.m. closing time because the lines to vote were so long.
Many voters just gave up and went home rather than wait to cast a vote for national elections in lines that stretched for blocks in Rome, Naples and other large cities. Rebellious voters in Naples tore up their ballots and flipped over tables.
Analysts before the vote had predicted that Mr. Berlusconi would have a harder time winning in the Senate than in the Chamber of Deputies.
Earlier, exit polls on state television indicated the billionaires bloc was winning in both chambers of Parliament. In the Chamber of Deputies, Mr. Berlusconis forces would take 48 to 51 percent, while Mr. Rutellis coalition would garner 41 to 44 percent, the exit polls indicated.
Nearly 80 percent of the eligible voters went to the polls, according to Interior Minister Enzo Bianco.
Mr. Berlusconi is "happy, serene, calm," said his spokesman, Paolo Bonaiuti, adding that the politician was waiting for more specific data before commenting.
Despite the incumbent center-lefts success in managing the economy, polls said Mr. Berlusconi had gone into the balloting with a lead. But Mr. Rutelli had taken hope from a heavy early turnout.
"We think this is a good sign," Mr. Rutelli told the crowd of reporters that mobbed him as he left his polling place in suburban Rome after waiting for more than an hour to vote.
The new government will be Italys 59th since World War II, a tribute to a complex electoral system that gives tiny parties the leverage to shatter governing coalitions. Repeated attempts to change the system have failed.
Mr. Berlusconi was premier for seven months in 1994 but his government fell when a key ally dropped out of the coalition. He has tried ever since to regain power. His 1996 bid ended in failure.
Analysts said it appeared millions of Italians would make up their minds at the last minute, and Mr. Rutelli targeted these undecided voters in his last-minute appeals.
Federica Mollela, a Rome housewife in her 50s, was still wavering as she stood in line at a polling place in central Rome. "Rutelli is better looking," she mused. "And Berlusconi is too rich, always thinking of himself. I think Ill vote for Rutelli."
The specter of a big undecided swing to Mr. Rutelli had a middle-aged Berlusconi supporter, Luca di Santo, worried as he waited to cast his ballot.
"There are too many people who are undecided whom I think will vote for Rutelli," he said.
The center-left went into the election with some solid economic accomplishments, among them guiding Italy into the charter club of the common European currency. But it was handicapped by internal bickering that helped make Mr. Rutelli, 46, the underdog in the race.
The campaign was a bitter one dominated by personalities rather than issues. Mr. Berlusconi belittled Mr. Rutelli throughout the campaign and refused to debate him.
Mr. Berlusconi voted in Milan, his hometown, Italian news agencies reported.


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