Only in Italy... exit polls suggest Silvio Berlusconi’s political comeback took an important step forward in the Sicilian elections on Sunday. Expulsion from public office, tax fraud, sex scandals and open heart surgery cannot stop 81-year old Silvio playing a major role in Italy’s political circus. Berlusconi campaigned hard in Sicily and Nello Musumeci, backed by center-right parties, including Berlusconi’s Forza Italia (Go Italy!), is expected to win when vote counting takes place today. The governing center-left party was beaten into third place behind the populist 5-Star party. According to Reuters.
The center-left, led by Matteo Renzi’s ruling Democratic Party, looked certain to finish a distant third after internal feuding wrecked its chances of retaining power on the Mediterranean island that it had governed since 2012.
RAI state television said Nello Musumeci, backed by center-right parties, including Berlusconi’s Forza Italia (Go Italy!), would win between 35 percent and 39 percent of the vote.
The 5-Star’s Giancarlo Cancelleri was seen taking between 33 and 37 percent.
Another exit poll for private broadcaster La 7 put Musumeci on 36-40 percent and Cancelleri on 34-38 percent.
The center-left’s Fabrizio Micari was seen 20 points behind the frontrunner in both surveys, followed by Claudio Fava, the candidate of a cluster of left-wing parties.
The vote count will begin on Monday at 8 a.m (0700 GMT) and Musumeci’s lead is inside the pollsters’ margin of error.
This was Berlusconi campaigning with Nello Musumeci, courtesy of the FT.
Musumeci served as a junior labour minister under Berlusconi and campaigned on job creation, better use of EU funds and voters’ frustration with the long-standing mafia connections in Sicilian politics.
Berlusconi aside, the Sicilian elections are significant as they are viewed as a useful barometer for next year’s Italian General election. While there seems little doubt that the result will be a hung parliament, it looks increasingly like the center-right coalition, which Berlusconi is instrumental in developing, will win the most seats. From the FT.
The vote in Sicily, a region of more than 5m people, marks a key test of the political winds in Italy ahead of a general election due as early as March 2018, and had drawn all the top party leaders to the island in recent weeks for campaign rallies...
Gianfranco Micciché, one of Mr Berlusconi’s closest allies in Sicily, was already speaking triumphantly.
“Six months ago everyone took for granted that Five Star would win. We did a miracle,” he said.
The strong result for Mr Musumeci is likely to encourage Mr Berlusconi to strengthen his alliance with Matteo Salvini, the leader of the anti-immigrant, anti-euro Northern League, and Giorgia Meloni, the leader of the far-right Brothers of Italy party, ahead of the next election.
Sicily looks like being a setback for 5-Star, even though it is expected to win more votes than any other single party. Forza Italia is expected to poll second with less than half the seats. 5-Star had been hoping that Sicily would see it win power in one of Italy’s regions for the first time. To that end, new leader, Luigi Di Maio, had campaigned energetically on the island since the Summer.
For the center-left and former Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi, this was a striking, but not unexpected defeat. As the FT explains.
Lorenzo Guerini, a top official in the PD, said that his party was looking at a “widely expected, yet clear and undeniable defeat”.
But Mr Renzi will also face pressure to patch up his relations with the Italian left if he wants to compete with the centre-right and the Five Star in 2018. Since Mr Renzi took over the party in late-2013, he has faced heavy resistance to his reformist agenda from within the party, which led to a series of damaging defections from left wing dissidents this year.
Nationally, the PD is just behind 5-Star, which has 28% support. In the center-right bloc, Forza Italia and the anti-immigrant, Northern League, have 14% each, while the far-right Brothers of Italy have 5%. As media outlets emphasised, much of the Sicilian election campaign focused on the personalities of those involved, rather than the “big issues”, like the economy, jobs and immigration. Ironically, we suspect that Mr Berlusconi will revel in such a situation if it continues in the upcoming national election campaign. Besides cementing the alliance between his Forza Italia, Brothers of Italy and the Northern League, we will be watching as Berlusconi seeks to overturn the ban on his running for public office. Berlusconi, of course, denies any wrongdoing.