At 71, Silvio Berlusconi still stands the test of time. After his two previous victories in 1994 and 2001, Il Cavaliere is making a stunning comeback to Palazzo Chigi as the country's prime minister for a third time. He now enjoys a comfortable majority in both the Lower House and the Senate that should allow him to tackle the country’s flagging economy. In the immediate term, his top challenges will be to solve the Naples waste crisis and save the national carrier Alitalia.
This is "Berlusconi’s triumph" the Corriere della Sera headlined on Tuesday. Far more than a victory, Italy's richest man has actually secured a strong majority. According to final results, his coalition swept 340 seats out of the 617 in the Lower House with 46,8% of the ballots. At the other end, Walter Veltroni’s centre-left Democratic Party (PD) and the Italy of Values Movement (IdV) won only 239 seats. More surprisingly, the Right landed an absolute majority of 168 seats in the Senate, against 130 for the Left.
Pressing issues: Alitalia and the Naples garbage crisis
"Voters on the Left are stunned to witness Berlusconi make his third comeback at the head of the country,” says FRANCE24's Rome correspondent Alexis Masciarelli. “But conservative voters believe the results herald a time for change. They’re happy to see him back in command as prime minister after two years of Prodi government that drove the country to paralysis.”
The newly elected head of government promised to get back to business quickly to help the country recover from an economic slowdown. Italy’s projected growth rate stands at less than 0.6% for 2008. “The years and months to come will be difficult and I am preparing a government ready to last five years,” Berlusconi said Monday night in a phone interview to the RAI television. He also said he was ready to tackle the two hot issues of the Naples waste crisis and the takeover of the national air company Alitalia. Willing to risk everything to keep it in Italian hands, he allegedly held a meeting on the topic on Monday night. He talked about "dozens" of Italian businesses ready to invest in the ailing company
Two ministries to the Northern League
Umberto Bossi’s Northern League is the other election winner. This regionalist and anti-immigration party bounced back, doubling its score in the Senate compared to 2006. Berlusconi promised two ministerial positions to the anti-European party. He also pleaded in favour of closing the border to illegal immigrants and for a crackdown against criminals he called “the army of evil.”
After two years of shaky coalition government, "Italians need stability and they believe that Berlusconi can provide it,” explains Gian Paolo Accardo, an Italy specialist at French weekly Courrier International. “Because he is the only one who finished his five year-mandate.”
"Veltroni succeeded in creating a Centre-Left party "
But results don't represent a complete failure for Walter Veltroni. The Democratic Party candidate campaigned alone without the traditional support of the Greens, Communists and various centrist parties. “He succeeded in creating a Centre-Left party,” says Accardo.
The elections transformed the political landscape by strengthening the two-party rule and marking the collapse of the smaller parties on the Far Left. Theirs was a historic defeat with less than 3% of the ballots, down from 11% in 2006. They will be absent from Parliament for the first time. The election results spell “the birth of a third republic,” Italian daily la Repubblica writes on Tuesday, "as Italian voters showed their preference for the two big parties that are Veltroni’s Democratic Party and Berlusconi’s coalition rather than smaller parties.”
Berlusconi will be appointed as the head of government at the beginning of May, once Italian president Giorgio Napolitano approves his proposed cabinet.