ITALY

Bersani chosen to lead centre-left opposition Democratic Party

Supporters of Italy's centre-left opposition Democratic Party on Sunday elected Pierluigi Bersani as their new leader.

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AFP - Supporters of Italy's Democratic Party on Sunday elected former minister Pierluigi Bersani as new leader of the centre-left opposition, organisers said.

"The electorate has chosen Pierluigi Bersani" as new leader, interim party secretary Dario Franceschini, himself also a candidate, announced at party headquarters after a higher-than-expected 2.5 million people voted.

Senior party official Maurizio Migliavacca hailed the turnout in the leadership primaries as a "great success" and "a beautiful day for Italian democracy."

"It's a good sign of the vitality of the opposition" to Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, he said.

Bersani, 58, has been minister in several centre-left governments, and takes the helm with Berlusconi dogged by scandals over his private life, from questions over his relationship with an aspiring teen model to allegations involving call girls.

Bersani began his political career as a communist, but the son of a garage mechanic ended up promoting privatisations as economics minister in the government of former premier Romano Prodi.

His other portfolios were minister of industry and minister of transport.

The Democratic Party had initially hoped around two million people would cast their vote to choose a successor to Walter Veltroni, who stepped down in February.

Long queues at some polling stations meant voting continued well past 8:00 pm (1900 GMT) when the contest had been expected to come to an end.

Three candidates were in the running to take control of the party, which has been beset by a string of election defeats and unable to prove a match for the right-wing Berlusconi.

Around 9,800 polling stations were set up around Italy for Sunday's vote, in which anyone able to prove they are centre-left supporters was eligible to cast ballots.

Voting took place a day after a senior member of the Democratic Party, Piero Marrazzo, resigned as governor of the Lazio region, which includes Rome, after police were accused of blackmailing him with a video allegedly showing him with a transsexual. Marrazzo says the video is a fake.

"During its primary campaign, the DP has been very focused on itself," rather than taking aim at Berlusconi, said Marco Tarchi, a professor of political science.

"It is the press, particularly the Repubblica-Espresso group, which has dictated the opposition agenda," he said, referring to the newspaper and magazine at the forefront of efforts to dig up scandals linked to Berlusconi.

 

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