Berlusconi Seen Narrowly Seizing Sicily Before 2018 ElectionBy
Center-right coalition could beat populists, early count shows
Berlusconi seeks center-right bloc for next year’s vote
Former premier Silvio Berlusconi’s center-right coalition appeared headed for a close victory in a regional vote in Sicily, as early counting estimated he would defeat a populist challenge ahead of next year’s Italian general election.
Nello Musumeci of the center-right bloc was credited with 38.8 percent of the vote for the region’s governor, against 35.5 percent for Giancarlo Cancelleri of the anti-establishment and euroskeptic Five Star Movement, with almost half polling stations counted, according to the website of newspaper Corriere della Sera.
Fabrizio Micari, running for the center-left Democratic Party of Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni, was expected to collect 18.7 percent. Ballot-counting started at 8 a.m. on Monday.
A voter turnout of 46.76 percent in the contest for Sicily’s governor and assembly underlined disaffection on an island plagued by economic woes -- with youth unemployment at 57 percent against a national average of 38 percent -- and a mafia-tainted political class.
A win would give momentum to Berlusconi, 81, as he seeks to create a center-right alliance between his Forza Italia, the anti-migrant Northern League, and the right-wing Brothers of Italy party for the national vote due in spring 2018, exploiting a new electoral system that favors alliances. Five Star, which insists on campaigning alone in all elections, has been hoping to win its first region.
Berlusconi also wants to overturn a ban on his eligibility for public office that followed a conviction for tax fraud. He denies wrongdoing in the case. In Sicily, he unveiled what he said was a center-right program for national government, including “less constraints from the European Union, less taxes, and less state.” League leader Matteo Salvini is more critical of the euro and the EU than Berlusconi, and is expected to press for tough measures to curb immigration.
The results, if confirmed, would be a setback for both ex-premier Matteo Renzi, the leader of the Democrats who faces more dissent within his party, and for Luigi Di Maio, the Five Star candidate for the premiership who has campaigned in Sicily for weeks.
Nationally, recent surveys show that a potential pre-election alliance led by Forza Italia would beat both Five Star and the Democrats. None of the three blocs are forecast to win an absolute majority, with one scenario involving a “grand coalition” including Renzi’s Democrats and Berlusconi’s party.
Musumeci, a former junior labor minister under Berlusconi, focused his campaign on boosting job creation, using European Union funds better, and a clean political record amid voter anger at the island’s mafia-tainted establishment.