Italian centre-left leader Romano Prodi held firm to his disputed election
victory Wednesday despite Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's refusal to step
aside due to allegations of "irregularities".
leader Romano Prodi celebrates at the union's headquarters in Rome. Prodi
held firm to his disputed election victory despite Prime Minister Silvio
Berlusconi's refusal to step aside due to allegations of "irregularities".
"We cannot recognise the outcome of a vote until there is a definitive clear
judgement. Until that day, no one can say they have won," the billionaire prime
minister told a packed news conference in Rome on Tuesday.
Berlusconi raised the prospect of declaring invalid the pivotal votes for six
seats chosen by Italians living abroad. That vote had swung the election to
Prodi's centre-left alliance, with four of the six seats going their way.
"On the foreign vote there were a great many irregularities," he said.
"It cannot be excluded that this vote can be declared invalid," said
Berlusconi, who fought a vitriolic campaign to extend his five-year reign -- the
longest since World War II.
He even offered the image of a German-style "grand coalition" in case a
recount eventually ended with each side taking one house -- a divided
"I think maybe we should follow the example of some other European countries,
like Germany, to see if there is a case for joining forces and governing
together," he said.
Each chamber in the Italian parliament has equal power, meaning both the
lower house Chamber of Deputies and upper house Senate must be secured for a
government to rule effectively.
But Prodi quashed the idea of setting up government with Berlusconi's camp.
"We came into this election with a set coalition, and the electoral law has
alloted us a number of seats in the Chamber (of Deputies) and in the Senate
which will allow us to govern," he told journalists Tuesday outside his campaign
headquarters in Rome.
Still, Berlusconi's declarations raised the spectre of a Florida-style
recount debacle akin to the situation that brought his close ally US President
George W. Bush to power in 2000.
Only minutes earlier, full results showed Prodi's Union alliance had snatched
the elections from the conservative House of Freedoms coalition, after a
campaign that had attacked the prime minister relentlessly over Italy's weak
Prodi's centre-left bloc took control of the Senate, which had been hanging
in the balance, the interior ministry said. A full count had already shown him
as the winner in the lower chamber.
"Whoever wins, wins, that's the beauty of democracy," the sober 66-year-old
economist, nicknamed "Il Professore", said earlier in the day.
But Berlusconi's own Forza Italia party had said it would press for a recount
given the wafer-thin margin -- just 25,224 votes -- which separated the two
sides in the lower house.
"There is a difference of 25,000 votes and there are 43,000 contested votes,"
Forza Italia's national coordinator Sandro Bondi said in a debate on Sky Italia
"For the moment, you have won nowhere: neither in the House, nor in the
Senate," said Bondi.
The full results showed Prodi's team winning 158 seats of 315 seats up for
grabs in the Senate, compared to 156 for Berlusconi.
The Prodi alliance also won 342 seats in the 630-seat lower house Chamber of
Deputies compared to 281 for Berlusconi.
Among the first congratulations for the former European Commission
president's election victory came from the current head of the European Union's
executive, Jose Manuel Barroso.
Prodi had "actively promoted the general European interest" as commission
chief and would "continue to work in this direction" as Italian premier, Barroso
said in a statement, while also noting the "constructive and fruitful
relationship" he had had with Berlusconi.
Outside Prodi's Rome headquarters supporters milled restlessly, awaiting a
final, iron-clad confirmation he had won.
Gianni Marchetti, a 54-year-old biologist in Rome on holiday from northern
Padua, said he hoped a "new Florida" could be avoided.
"It should have been such an easy victory," Marchetti said, ticking off
Berlusconi's "notorious gaffes, his negative image overseas, his disastrous
economic policies, the impoverishment of the people, Italy's decline on the
In the nearby Via del Corso, one of Rome's busiest shopping streets, Daniele
Calicchia said he would not welcome a recount. "Berlusconi does his best to turn
things his way. But that would not be good for Italy," said Calicchia, a
volunteer raising money for a drug abuse program.
At a nearby clothing boutique, a saleswoman, Giusappina Vista, said she would
not oppose a recount. "If there's a doubt, why not?"