Berlusconi holds off opposition as coalition shifts right
THE balance of power within Silvio Berlusconi's centre-right coalition looked set to shift towards the right-wing, anti-immigration Northern League yesterday after a two-day regional election marked by an unusually low turnout.
The centre-right fared better than expected in the poll, which was seen as a test of Mr Berlusconi's popularity two years after he returned to power for a third term.
He held off a challenge by the centre-left opposition, which lost two regions to the ruling coalition.
However, there were signs of growing disillusionment among voters after a series of sex and corruption scandals, fears of job losses and a faltering economy. Turnout, at about 65pc of the 41 million voters in 13 of Italy's 20 regions, was nearly eight percentage points down from the last regional elections five years ago.
The centre-left held six regions in its traditional heartlands -- Emilia Romagna, Umbria, Tuscany, Le Marche, Basilicata and Apulia.
Projections suggested that it had lost two southern regions to the centre-right -- Campania, the region around Naples, and Calabria -- while retaining Lombardy and Veneto in the north.
However, the region of Veneto was won, not by Mr Berlusconi's People of Liberty party, but by the Northern League, its increasingly powerful coalition ally. Luca Zaia, the Agriculture Minister and a Northern League leader, was set to become regional president there, while Roberto Cota, of the Northern League, appeared to be ahead of Mercedes Bresso, the incumbent centre-left president, in a close race in Piedmont.
Recent opinion polls show that Mr Berlusconi's popularity has slipped to about 44pc from 62pc two years ago.
The elections took place against a backdrop of his attempts to pass laws enabling him to avoid corruption charges, and an investigation into allegations he abused his power over the media by trying to gag talk shows critical of him.
Meanwhile, British MPs will still be allowed to employ family members under their new expenses system after initial proposals to outlaw the practice were thrown out, it has emerged. (©The Times, London)