Partial results from Italy's legislative elections point to a five-point advantage for conservative leader Silvio Berlusconi over centre-left candidate Walter Veltroni in the crucial race for the senate. (Story: C. Dansette and L. Kammourieh)
Conservative leader Silvio Berlusconi's centre-right coalition was tipped to win Italy's general elections by projections based on partial results and exit polls published Monday.
A Berlusconi victory would return the 71-year-old billionaire media tycoon to the prime minister's office for the third time since 1994.
A projection by RAI public television attributed 164 Senate seats to Berlusconi's supporters and 139 to his centre-left opponents.
One exit poll gave Berlusconi's grouping 42 percent of the vote against 40 percent for the centre-left led by former Rome mayor Walter Veltroni, while another called it at between 40 and 43 percent for Berlusconi against 37-40 percent for Veltroni.
Voter surveys in the run-up to the polls gave Berlusconi an ever-shrinking lead, from double digits in February to between six and seven percent when the last polls were permitted two weeks ago.
Veltroni apparently closed the gap even further as he criss-crossed the country aboard a bus emulating US Republican candidate John McCain's Straight Talk Express.
The coalition that wins the most votes, even by a small margin, will automatically be awarded 340 seats in the 630-seat Chamber of Deputies, the lower house.
A few key regions are expected to determine Berlusconi's prospects in the Senate: Rome's Lazio region and neighbouring Abruzzo, southern Campania (the Naples region) and Calabria, northwestern Piedmont and Liguria, as well as Sardinia.
Berlusconi's coalition includes his newly formed People of Freedom party and the populist Northern League.
On the centre-left is Veltroni's Democratic Party, also a new formation, in coalition with Italy of Values, a populist, anti-corruption party.
The rest of the vote was shared by smaller formations including the far-left Rainbow Left, centrist Christian Democrats in the UDC and a far-right party, La Destra (The Right).
Hoping to avoid the divisiveness of outgoing Prime Minister Romano Prodi's outgoing government, Veltroni spurned the far left as well as the centre when he set up his American-style Democratic Party last year.
The move prompted Berlusconi to form his own merger of centre-right forces a few weeks later.
As prime minister once again, Berlusconi faces an economic downturn and a nation frustrated over political gridlock blamed on the electoral law -- which he himself crafted when coming to the end of his second premiership in 2005.
Date created : 2008-04-14