Prodi may be Italy's center-left candidate
Updated: 2005-10-17 09:17
Former Italian premier Romano Prodi appeared headed to a sweeping victory in
his country's first nationwide primary Sunday to become the center-left's
candidate to challenge conservative Premier Silvio Berlusconi in next year's
The vote was marred, however, by the Mafia-style ambush killing of a local
politician at a polling station in southern Italy.
Early results showed Prodi won 72 percent of the vote. Prodi's widely
expected victory would set the stage for a race against Berlusconi, who is
likely to remain at the helm of the conservatives for the mid-2006 vote. The two
ran against each other in another election a decade ago, which Prodi won.
Prodi, also a former European Commission president, was up against six other
candidates, who posed virtually no challenge to him. The veteran Communist
leader Fausto Bertinotti came in second with 16 percent, according to the
results, which were based on 59 percent of 10,000 polling stations reporting.
Final returns were expected Monday morning.
Party officials said some 3 million people cast ballots in the primary vote,
but added the figure was still not final. Turnout was higher than expected,
Italy's opposition leader Romano Prodi greets
demonstrators gathered at Rome's Popolo square October 9,
Prodi had hoped strong turnout would give him a mandate for control of a
"It's beyond our every dream," Prodi said of the turnout after polls closed.
"We needed that. Italy needed that."
Organizers also billed the primary as a vote of protest against policies
enacted by Berlusconi's government — especially a new electoral law recently
rushed through Parliament and bitterly contested by the opposition.
In addition, Prodi has said he would replace Italian troops in Iraq with a
civilian force if his center-left coalition wins the 2006 election. Italians
were largely opposed to the war in Iraq and to Berlusconi's decision to send
some 3,000 troops after the ouster of Saddam Hussein in 2003 to help with
The government is gradually pulling some of its contingent out of Iraq.
At a polling station in a downtown piazza in the capital, 71-year-old Alba
Rossi lined up to vote for Prodi.
"The government must understand we are fed up," she said. "Above all, we
don't want Berlusconi anymore."
Berlusconi's conservative government's popularity has been sagging recently
amid economic troubles and infighting. Opinion polls show the center-left
solidly ahead, even though recent ones indicate the gap between the two
coalitions is narrowing.
On Sunday, Berlusconi said: "Prodi has only one way to win a vote: Have only
center-left people go to the polls, just like he did today."
The center-left politician killed Sunday, 54-year-old Francesco Fortugno, was
shot in the small town of Locri minutes after casting his ballot. The killing in
the area plagued by organized crime drew condemnation from Prodi and other