- The Washington Times - Monday, April 14, 2008

ROME (AP) — Center-left leader Walter Veltroni has conceded defeat in Italy’s national elections.

RAI state television had earlier projected conservative leader Silvio Berlusconi’s bloc taking 163 Senate seats, ahead of 141 for center-left leader Walter Veltroni’s Democratic Party and allies. The Senate has 315 seats.

Berlusconi’s bloc also had a 7-percent lead over Veltroni’s in the lower house, according to the projections. Under Italy’s system, premiers must have control of both houses to govern.

Veltroni, speaking on Italian television, said he called conservative leader Silvio Berlusconi to congratulate him on his victory.

Veltroni said the result is clear even if the final results are not in yet.

Analysts saw the result as a rebuff of Romano Prodi’s government, which fell after just 20 months in office. The voting yesterday and today came amid a widespread sense of national decline and an economic downturn.

“I think it was a vote against the performance of the Prodi government, high taxation and the feeling that everything was blocked by the interests of the various political parties,” said Franco Pavoncello, a political science professor at John Cabot University. “The only way to get rid of the left is with a Berlusconi government.’

Berlusconi, 71, who has been premier twice before, has blamed the outgoing center-left government for the country’s troubles. Veltroni, the former mayor of Rome, is almost 20 years younger and has promised deep reform and an ideology-free approach to tackle the country’s problems.

Whoever wins will face Italy’s perpetual dilemma — improving the economy, the world’s seventh largest. It has underperformed the rest of the euro zone for years and the International Monetary Fund forecasts growth of 0.3 percent this year, compared with a 1.4 percent average growth for the 15-country euro area.

Signs of decline are abound, from piles of trash in Naples, to a buffalo mozzarella heath scare that has hurt exports and hit one of the country’s culinary treasures, to the faltering sale of the state airline Alitalia.

And Italians increasingly blame the governing class — not just one political force or another — for the failure to solve the nation’s problems.

The elections decide 945 parliamentary seats, 630 of those in the lower house.

Under Italy’s much-criticized election law, a party only needs a relative majority in the lower house — even just a 1-vote lead — to win bonus seats securing full control of the chamber.

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