TCS Daily

Too Close for Comfort

By Stefania Lapenna - March 29, 2006 12:00 AM

As the April 9 date for Italy's national election approaches, candidates are focusing on a huge undecided vote -- as much as 50 percent of the electorate. For the first time ever, the two main candidates - current Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and former European Commission President Romano Prodi -- held a live debate on the state-run television channel Rai Uno.

It was not the typical Italian campaign forum in which politicians always resort to insulting each other without letting the viewers and would-be voters know what their government plans are. Rather, Rai decided to hold an American-style debate in which the two main front-runners pledged to respect the basic rules of a civilized discussion and to highlight the programs they would implement if elected.

And, as with American debates, pollsters are still sifting through their data to try to determine who won the face-off. According to a Sky TG24 poll, Prodi beat Berlusconi 38 to 35 percent, but other surveys were less certain of a Prodi victory. An ISPO-Corriere della Sera poll found that the outcome of such a debate was not enough to undecided voters. Another poll taken by TNS-Abacus showed Berlusconi as winner among female viewers. More importantly, the poll also underlines the fact that the debate had little influence with potential voters, whether undecided or not.

What's more, these polls can be misleading. Last year, they showed the center-right mayor of the Sicilian town of Catania losing big time to the center-leftist Enzo Bianco. But in the end the election outcome was an unexpected defeat for Bianco.

While it's tough to make any prediction at this time, it's probably fair to claim that Berlusconi's center-right House of Freedom has a better chance for victory now than it did just one month ago. Many factors play into this. One is the growing influence of extremist elements in Prodi's Union coalition, which has accepted the communists' request to allow a radical anti-globalization leader to run for parliament with the Party of the Communist Rebirth.

This choice is likely to prove widely unpopular with ordinary Italian voters. Worse, it comes soon after Milan has been hit by violent anti-globalization protesters. Shops, cars and banks were damaged and burned by angry elements who were protesting a meeting of a far-right wing party. The clashes occurred in crowded streets, with elderly people and children trying to escape the violence.

Minutes after the police stopped the protestors -- some of whom are still under arrest -- furious residents tried unsuccessfully to lynch them, even asking the police to "kill them." Interviews with passersby in Milan revealed a deep frustration of the citizens toward this situation. It's very likely this will influence the outcome of the upcoming administrative election in Milan in May.

It also risks seriously damaging Prodi, as many Italians have been negatively impressed by those violent images. The only question is how much it will hurt him. We'll have to wait until April 10 to find out.

Stefania Lapenna is an Italian political activist and author of the weblog Free Thoughts.


1 Comment

Reporting elections east & west
Now if Berlesconni was running Belarus this balance would be reported in somewhat different terms.

See for an example of what a class act he is.

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