Confirmation of Prodi’s victory in Italy closer, number of contested ballots lowered
ROME – Center-left leader Romano Prodi moved closer to becoming the next Italian premier Friday as the Interior Ministry sharply lowered the number of contested ballots in the hard-fought parliamentary election, boosting the likelihood his narrow victory will stand.As judges continued counting contested ballots and Italians awaited the final word, Prodi reiterated his confidence, while Premier Silvio Berlusconi, a billionaire media mogul, still refused to concede.”The match is over,” Prodi, speaking from Bologna where he was spending Easter weekend, was quoted as saying by the Italian agency Apcom. “Now let’s move on.”Leaving a soccer stadium where he watched his Milan soccer team defeat crosstown rival Inter Friday evening, Berlusconi described himself as “an optimist, a fighter.”Referring to the latest figures from the Interior Ministry, Berlusconi described those numbers as “provisional.””I am waiting, holding my breath, as is half of Italy, as well as the other half, that these blessed results come out,” the ANSA news agency quoted the premier as saying at the end of the game.In a letter to be published Saturday in Italian daily Corriere della Sera, Berlusconi insisted the situation was stalled. “At least on the basis of the popular vote, there’s no winner and no loser,” Italian news agencies quoted the letter as saying.Italy has been mired in political uncertainty since millions of citizens voted April 9-10. Prodi’s center-left won a razor-thin majority in both houses of parliament, but Berlusconi alleged irregularities and demanded thorough checks.On Friday, the Interior Ministry announced that there were only about 5,200 contested ballots, not the 80,000 previously indicated, dashing Berlusconi’s hopes of retaining power.The Interior Ministry explained the confusion by saying that invalid or blank ballots had been lumped in by mistake with the contested ballots – those where the voting intentions are not clear. It stressed in a statement the numbers were provisional.But center-left leaders accused the government of keeping the country in a state of uncertainty.”The masquerade of Berlusconi and Forza Italia has finally been revealed by the Interior Ministry,” said a statement by the Democrats of the Left, the largest party supporting Prodi. The statement accused Berlusconi and his Forza Italia party of mounting a “false” campaign.Berlusconi, who has made few comments since the close of the polls Monday afternoon, has said the routine count of contested ballots was not enough. Instead, he has demanded a check of 1.1 million annulled ballots and of voting reports from virtually every polling station in Italy.The premier has also alleged irregularities in the vote of Italians abroad, which proved key in swinging the Senate. The vote of Italians abroad was a first in elections here, and its result came as a bitter surprise for the conservatives, who had expected to garner most of it.The minister for Italians abroad, Mirko Tremaglia, called for a new vote, saying Friday that some 228,000 expatriate voters – about 10 percent of the total- had not received the electoral material in time.Once checks on the contested ballots are completed, a top Italian court, the Court of Cassation, certifies the result. It was not clear when that would come.As Prodi kept receiving calls of congratulations from European leaders, his allies urged Berlusconi to accept the electoral defeat.”Let those who won be put in the position to govern,” said Francesco Rutelli, who ran for premier and lost to Berlusconi in 2001.Even once the results are confirmed, it could still be weeks before Prodi takes office.It is up the president to give him a mandate to form a government. However, the president’s term ends in mid-May, and the current president, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, has said he would leave the decision up to his successor. Parliament has until May 13 to elect a new president.