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Berlusconi Waits For Outcome Of Referendums

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Berlusconi Waits For Outcome Of Referendums

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Berlusconi Waits For Outcome Of Referendums

Berlusconi Waits For Outcome Of Referendums

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Italians began voting over the weekend in referendums that could further hurt Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. He is still smarting from last month's big losses in local elections.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

The people of Italy voted today. They voted on several referendums, and the early results appear to be bad news for Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. These are referendums against a number of laws that he favored, and he didn't want them to vote at all.

NPR's Sylvia Poggioli is on the line from Rome to give us the latest.

And Sylvia, remind us what people were voting on, here.

POGGIOLI: Well, there were four ballots. Two dealt with privatization of water utilities. Another ballot concerned repeal of a recent law that allows the prime minister and some other government officials to skip trial hearings against them if they're on government business. Berlusconi's critics had said this law was passed for his own personal benefit, since he currently faces three trials for corruption and paying for sex with a minor.

The fourth ballot called for repeal of a law passed last year by this government to restart a nuclear power program that had been halted in 1987 by another referendum. This was the world's first nuclear referendum following Japan's Fukushima disaster.

But the biggest issue was whether there would be quorum, 50 percent-plus-one of eligible voters, and that seems to have been accomplished. At least 57 percent voted. And of those, more than 90 percent voted to repeal all four laws that were passed by the Berlusconi government.

INSKEEP: Wow. What a slap in the face to the prime minister of Italy. Now, I want to ask about that quorum that you mentioned, Sylvia, because we spoke earlier today, and some people will have heard you saying that the government, the people in the government were urging their citizens not to vote today. What were they saying, and how was that received by people?

POGGIOLI: Well, the government did everything possible to ignore the campaign and to prevent the quorum from being reached. The three TV networks controlled by the government and the three networks owned by Berlusconi himself gave hardly any coverage to the referendum, and 80 percent of Italians get their information exclusively from TV.

As you said, Berlusconi and several other ministers said they would not vote, and they urged Italians to go to the beach instead of the voting booth. This was probably the first Italian campaign carried out mostly on the Internet and by volunteers on the street.

INSKEEP: You said these were preliminary results, that the votes went against Berlusconi, overwhelmingly. Is there any doubt that that will be the final result, or something close to it?

POGGIOLI: No. It seems that these are all the exit polls. The interior minister will probably give the official results in some hours from now, but it certainly seems that this is a given. Even Berlusconi himself is reported to have said we're going to have to find a new kind of energy policy.

INSKEEP: Well, not only that, he'll have to show up at court proceedings now, since the law that his own government passed, which allowed him to skip them, has been rejected.

Are there larger implications for Berlusconi's government, here? Could he, for example, lose his job over this?

POGGIOLI: Well, it does not mean automatically - it does automatically lead to the immediate fall of the government. But it's certainly humiliating for him, and it's a further blow to his credibility.

Last month, his hand-picked candidates in Naples and in his home base Milan were defeated. His party lost many other races throughout the country, and Berlusconi's coalition allies, the Northern League, also suffered election losses for the first time in its history. So analysts say this could convince the Northern League to pull the plug from the government.

INSKEEP: Let me make sure I understand what you're saying: Is his hold on his own party not that secure, on his own governing coalition not that secure at this point?

POGGIOLI: It's not secure, but it does not mean that the government is going to fall. He has a parliamentary majority. He has sufficient votes in parliament to pass. But if one of - if his major coalition ally to decides if this is no longer a convenient marriage of convenience, they - he - the Northern League may pull the plug, and that would force the government to collapse.

INSKEEP: Sylvia, thanks very much.

POGGIOLI: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: NPR's Sylvia Poggioli, reporting today on referendums in Italy, where the people appear to have repeatedly rejected laws passed by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's government.

This is NPR News.

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