Rome voted for a new mayor on Sunday in the second round of a two-day election. The election could replace the centre-left rule for the first time in 15 years after Silvio Berlusconi's political comeback at the national level. (Report: B.Harris)
Romans voted Sunday in an unexpectedly close mayoral election with the right wing aiming to take the Italian capital from the left for the first time in 15 years in the wake of Silvio Berlusconi's political comeback at the national level.
The voting Sunday and Monday is the first test for the left two weeks after it went down to Berlusconi's forces by a wider-than-expected margin in general elections.
First-round polls for Rome's city hall were inconclusive with outgoing Culture Minister Francesco Rutelli leading but falling short of the 50 percent needed to defeat Gianni Alemmano of Berlusconi's People of Freedom (PDL) party at the first hurdle.
In the new political landscape created by the national polls, the next Rome mayor will play a larger role, the daily Corriere della Sera wrote Sunday.
"If Rutelli wins he will become a symbol of the left's salvation in a country now being ruled by the right," the newspaper said, while a victorious Alemmano "and Rome will embody the new Berlusconi era capable of winning back the capital."
Even if Alemanno loses, his surprisingly strong showing will "bring an end to the long years in the wilderness for a right wing prepared to run a capital city that is no longer hostile to it," Corriere said.
Rutelli has struggled to shrug off his association with the deeply unpopular outgoing Prime Minister Romano Prodi, and was softer than Alemanno on the issue of security, a central theme in the campaign for Rome after the murder last October of a naval officer's wife blamed on a Romanian immigrant.
Two recent rapes blamed on immigrants, an Egyptian and a Romanian, deepened the debate.
Alemanno vowed to deport 20,000 immigrants with criminal records while Rutelli said he would boost surveillance and crime prevention measures.
Alemanno, agriculture minister in a former Berlusconi government, left the neo-fascist Italian Socialist Movement to join the PDL.
Voting was to continue until 10:00 pm on Sunday and resume for eight hours from 7:00 am on Monday.
A three-day weekend thanks to Italy's national day on Friday combined with sunny springtime weather may keep many of Rome's nearly 2.5 million voters away from the polls, and observers say lower turnout could benefit the right.
Rutelli, vying to return to a job he held already from 1993 to 2001, scored 45.8 percent against Alemanno's 40.7 percent in the April 13-14 first-round vote.
The candidate for a small far-right party took 3.3 percent, while the centrist Catholic UDC won 3.1 percent.
Date created : 2008-04-27