Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's coalition suffered a setback Monday as local election results showed leftist mayoral candidates had won in Naples and MIlan - Berlusconi's hometown and a stronghold of the right for almost two decades.
AFP - Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's coalition suffered a humiliating defeat in mayoral elections in Milan and Naples on Monday, casting doubt over the legally-embattled Italian leader's future.
Left-wing lawyer Giuliano Pisapia triumphed in Milan against Letizia Moratti of Berlusconi's People of Freedom party, ending the right's 18-year control of the city and dealing a heavy blow to the Italian leader in his home town.
Pisapia garnered 55.10 percent of the vote, while Moratti won 44.89 percent in the second round of a mayoral vote held on Sunday and Monday.
In Naples, which was already controlled by the left, Luigi De Magistris, a former prosecutor, was also far ahead of his rival with 65.34 percent.
The centre-right lost other votes in Cagliari, Novara and Trieste but the defeat in Milan -- Italy's economic capital -- was seen as the most symbolically significant and a bellwether for anti-Berlusconi sentiment.
"I am delighted! This is an awakening of consciences that have been asleep during years of incivility, of an absence of culture," said Giovanna Cardarelli, 55, one of hundreds rallying in front of Milan cathedral.
Emanuele Crespi, a 28-year-old student, said: "Citizens understood that we needed real change. Pisapia is the right man to relaunch Milan, which needs radical reforms to become a city that can be a European player."
"Free Milan!" Pisapia supporters chanted as he gave his victory speech.
Berlusconi had actively campaigned on Moratti's behalf and declared the vote should be seen as a test of his popularity, which has been falling after a series of legal and sex scandals and continued weakness in the economy.
"Berlusconi and Berlusconism are on the way out. There is a political will for decorousness and for dealing with the problems of the country," Nicola Latorre, a senator from the opposition Democratic Party, said on a chat show.
Gaetano Quagliarello, deputy head of Berlusconi's party in parliament, said: "The second round of local elections shows that the right lost and we have to analyse this and try to provide responses through our policies."
Analysts say the defeat will put pressure on the coalition between Berlusconi and the Northern League party, which has shown signs of growing disenchantment with the prime minister's leadership in recent weeks.
"The first equilibrium to go would be the precarious one that holds Berlusconi and the Northern League party on the same side," commented La Stampa daily, also predicting a "a very tough reckoning" within Berlusconi's party.
Some experts have said that the problem now will be infighting and the absence of a clear succession in the centre-right after Berlusconi, who is a defendant in three trials and is ruling with a slim parliamentary majority.
The result in Milan is also likely to lead to a major rethink within the main opposition Democratic Party since Pisapia won against the party's candidate in a primary and is seen as further to the left than the party.
The elections involved 1,310 out of Italy's 8,100 local administrations.
Shortly before the vote, Berlusconi tried to play down the effect on the national government of a double loss in Milan and Naples and said he was sure of the support of his key ally, Northern League leader Umberto Bossi.
"The results will not affect the government," he told Il Giornale on Sunday.
He was in Romania on Monday for a summit and gave no immediate reaction.
His trial on charges of having sex with an underage prostitute and abuse of power is set to resume in Milan on Tuesday, although he will not attend.
Pisapia's surprise first round win prompted a heated fightback by the centre-right, with Berlusconi leading the charge by warning that Milan would become "an Islamic city" and "a gypsyville" under his leadership.
Pisapia has put forward plans for a new multicultural centre in the increasingly migrant-heavy city and has called for Romas to be treated more humanely, but says his words were completely distorted by his opponents.
Date created : 2011-05-30