Italians Restore Conservative Berlusconi to Power

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With final voting ending Monday in Italian national elections, conservative billionaire Silvio Berlusconi leads in both houses of Italy's parliament as his chief rival for prime minister concedes.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

In Italy, Silvio Berlusconi is returning to power. The former prime minister and media tycoon will become prime minister from the third time in 14 years. For the election, Berlusconi's Conservative Party formed a coalition with the controversial anti-immigrant party.

NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reports from Rome.

electorate was clamoring for change. The biggest change will be the presence of far fewer parties in parliament. Italians seemed to have put an end to decades of political fragmentation that often paralyze governments. The big losers are the smaller parties on the far left and far right. Bickering Marxists and green groupings obstructed the work of the previous center-left government of Romano Prodi, a coalition of nine parties.

The Berlusconi-led coalition is today's winner, gaining a comfortable majority in both the lower house and senate. But the biggest winner may be Berlusconi's ally, the Northern League, a controversial nativist movement that is pushing for cessation and a stop to immigration and which doubled its votes in much of the North.

Umberto Bossi is the Northern League leader.

Mr. UMBERTO BOSSI (Leader, Northern League Party): (Through Translator) The north wants federalism, it wants a different country. That works better. Why should we go to Rome to beg for money? We want our own financial autonomy.

POGGIOLI: Only last week, Bossi caused a storm where he warned that he and his followers will take up riffles if their demands are not met. Many analysts say its electoral success has made the Northern League the arbiter in the new government, perhaps causing us much obstruction as the leftist parties did in the last coalition.

Political analyst Gianfranco Pasquino does not expect Berlusconi to be able to deliver the necessary institutional reforms that Italy desperately needs.

Mr. GIANFRANCO PASCUINO (Political Analyst): It would be floating around. It will simply be surviving. Surviving would be the name of the game. It would try several economic recipes and not knowing very well what to do. Fortunately, there is a European Union, and from time to time they will intimate to him to behave.

POGGIOLI: The leader of the Democratic Party, Walter Veltroni, has conceded defeat. But he could not hide his satisfaction for how well his just-created party did. It was a 22 percent in the polls just three weeks ago when he cast himself as the Italian Barack Obama borrowing the slogan, Yes We Can, and now scoring nearly 40 percent of the vote.

Veltroni surprised many analysts when he decided to go on his own without the radical leftist party shaping the new grouping as the center-left reformer's party. This evening, he also was very proud of the voter turnout, 80 percent, even though it was nearly three points less than in the last election. And he had a warning for Berlusconi and the League.

Mr. WALTER VELTRONI (Leader, Democratic Party): (Through translator) The right now has the task of governing the country. We hope that it will do so in respect of the fundamental values of the Italian Republic and in respect for the constitution and the unity of the country.

POGGIOLI: But the first task of the new government will be tackling a disastrous economic situation - zero growth, increasing poverty, and soaring food prices. There is also widespread malaise throughout Italian society and a deep-seated diffidence toward the political establishment - the best paid in Europe, while Italians have the lowest salaries on the continent.

Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News, Rome.

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