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Friday, 9 March, 2001, 19:06 GMT
May date for Italy election
Silvio Berlusconi and Forza Italia supporters
Right-winger Silvio Berlusconi is already campaigning
Italy's voters will go to the polls on 13 May to choose a new government and local councils.

The announcement came a day after President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi had dissolved the country's parliament in preparation for the election.

Prime Minister Giuliano Amato's centre-left coalition is trailing in opinion polls, and he is not standing again.

Instead, the former mayor of Rome, Francesto Rutelli, will spearhead the left's challenge - taking on the centre-right coalition of media tycoon Silvio Berlusconi.

Italian election posters featuring Francesco Rutelli
Rutelli's left-wingers must reverse current opinion poll showings
Mr Berlusconi's five-party alliance includes his own Forza Italia, as well as the neo-fascist National Alliance and the anti-immigration Northern League.

He will be hoping to regain the premiership which he held for eight months in 1994.

The centre-left government unsuccessfully tried to pass a conflict of interests law aimed at Mr Berlusconi and his huge media empire, which includes three television networks.

Mr Berlusconi has refused to divest himself of his holdings, and seems unlikely to do so even if he is elected prime minister.

Carlo Azeglio Ciampi
President Ciampi dissolved parliament ahead of the announcement
The newly-dissolved parliament - the 13th since World War II - was only the fifth to run its full five-year term.

But the ruling coalition had three prime ministers and four governments.

In 1996, Romano Prodi - now president of the European Commission - formed Italy's first left-led government.

Unstable politics

He ensured that Italy met the economic criteria necessary for joining the euro, but fell from power in a budget dispute with the communists.

Massimo D'Alema took power in October 1998, but resigned after his centre-right opponents made gains in local elections last spring.

The outgoing parliament has failed to reduce the number of smaller parties, blamed for Italy's notoriously unstable political system.

However, apart from paving the way to the euro, this parliament can count the privatisation of Italy's gas and electricity monopolies, and the abolishing of compulsory military service among its achievements.

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See also:

21 Apr 00 | Europe
Italy set for new government
20 Apr 00 | Europe
Italy seeks end to crisis
19 Apr 00 | Europe
Italian premier resigns
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