Thursday, February 14, 2008

ROME — Walter Veltroni, the former communist who now styles himself as an Italian Kennedy, resigned as mayor of Rome yesterday to run against conservative former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

Mr. Veltroni, who has served for seven years as first citizen of the Eternal City, also has modeled his campaign for the April 13-14 parliamentary election on that of Sen. Barack Obama, Illinois Democrat, echoing the U.S. presidential candidate’s message of national unity and change.

The 52-year-old Democratic Party leader has even translated Mr. Obama’s campaign slogan, Yes, we can, into Italian: Si puo fare.

Mr. Berlusconi, Italy’s richest man and a two-time prime minister, is favored to win the election, called by Italian President Giorgio Napolitano after the collapse of Prime Minister Romano Prodi’s fractious center-left government.

Mr. Veltroni received a boost yesterday when Antonio Di Pietro, a former anti-corruption magistrate, announced that his centrist Italy of Values party would support the newly founded Democrats in a technical alliance.

However, Mr. Veltroni has said that his Democratic Party — the largest formation on the left — will not seek to form a wide-ranging coalition of the kind that was splintered by vicious squabbling during Mr. Prodi’s turbulent period of office.

In Italy, the parties able to form a government, usually with a majority in parliament, choose the prime minister.

Mr. Veltroni, a film buff who shed Communist Party roots to become a Social Democrat, first was elected mayor of Rome in 2001 and easily won re-election in 2006.

In October, he convincingly won a U.S.-style primary to lead the Democratic Party, which was created by merging the former communist Democratic Party of the Left and the Roman Catholic centrist Daisy Party.

Mr. Veltroni has not presented his program but has said he would focus on aiming to lower taxes and boost salaries while increasing environmental safeguards and revamping the welfare system.

Mr. Berlusconi pledged in an interview with TV anchorman Bruno Vespa Tuesday night to pursue a low-key campaign without attempting to demonize Mr. Veltroni as a latter-day communist.

The unusual promise led some commentators to question whether Mr. Berlusconi, 71, is too old to mount a fierce challenge for the prime minister’s office.

An IPR Marketing poll for La Repubblica newspaper showed Mr. Berlusconi’s coalition had 55.7 percent support while the Democratic Party and its allies had 44 percent. IPR surveyed 1,000 voters on Jan. 27 and 28.

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