ROME, Tuesday, April 5 - Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's conservative coalition
suffered a staggering setback in local elections on Monday, losing several regions.
Partial results released early Tuesday suggested that his center-right coalition
had lost all but 2 of the 13 regions (of 20) where elections were held. The
vote was widely seen as a litmus test for Mr. Berlusconi's four-year-old government.
Foreign Minister Gianfranco Fini said on television late Monday night that
the results should serve as a "warning bell" for the government ahead
of national elections next year.
"Something politically relevant happened today," said Mr. Fini, who
leads the right wing National Alliance, the second biggest party in the governing
Romano Prodi, the former European Commission president, who hopes to unseat
Mr. Berlusconi in 2006, said the results indicated that Italians were looking
for a change. "Italians are asking us to prepare to govern and bring the
country forward," Mr. Prodi told the Italian news agency ANSA.
The defeat for the conservative coalition had been in the air for months, and
last week the prime minister conceded that he was not optimistic about the elections,
blaming Italy's sluggish economy for voter disillusionment. But Mr. Berlusconi
repeatedly said that he would not resign in case of a poor showing.
The results, however, overwhelmingly rewarded the opposition center-left coalition,
which appeared to be taking six regions from the governing majority and to be
strengthening their hold on regions they already govern.
The center-right coalition managed to hold on to Veneto and Lombardy in the
north, but lost important elections in Puglia and Lazio.
The results indicated that Forza Italia, Mr. Berlusconi's party, had lost nearly
seven percentage points, to 18 percent of the overall vote.
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