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The BBC's Julian Keane in Rome
Rutelli's achilles heel is his lack of political experience
 real 28k

Friday, 4 May, 2001, 14:36 GMT 15:36 UK
Profile: Franceso Rutelli
 Francesco Rutelli
Francesco Rutelli: presents an image of a modern Italy
After five fractious years in power, the Italian left was going to need a better than average candidate for prime minister to power it into another term and past the might of Silvio Berlusconi - the media tycoon standing for the centre-right.

Giuliano Amato
Prime Minister Giuliano Amato stepped aside in favour of Mr Rutelli
In October last year, as the left trailed far down the polls, Francesco Rutelli emerged as that candidate, when reigning Prime Minister Giuliano Amato pulled out of the leadership race.

The youthful 46-year-old mayor of Rome seemed to have all the necessary energy and dynamism - as well as his much vaunted good-looks - to be a credible challenge to Mr Berlusconi with his vast wealth and media empire.

But critics say Mr Rutelli is all looks and no substance, earning him the nickname "Cicciobello" - a plastic doll.

Changing allegiances

He arrived on the political scene in the early 1980s as a member of parliament for the Radical Party.

Francesco Rutelli
Aged 47, married with two children
1983 elected to parliament for Radicals
1993 appointed Minister for Environment, resigns after one day
1993 elected mayor of Rome
1997 re-elected mayor
He later left the Radicals to join the Greens, then changed sides again when Romano Prodi - now president of the European Commission - founded the Democrats.

His career on the national stage has been brief in the extreme. He was nominated Minister for the Environment in 1993 but resigned after just one day when parliament refused to investigate a corruption scandal involving former Prime Minister Bettino Craxi.

He only came to real prominence after being elected Mayor of Rome in 1993.

His popularity with the Romans was confirmed when they re-elected him in 1997 with a massive 60% of the vote in the first round.

Success in Rome

Mr Rutelli can lay claim to some concrete successes during his reign over the capital.

Francesco Rutelli
Rutelli hopes to unite the left-wing Olive Branch coalition behind him
Firstly, and perhaps most remarkably, he has made some headway in sorting out Rome's notorious traffic problems. Romans have even started parking their cars in an orderly fashion.

The second - and more prestigious - feather in his cap is his role as ringmaster of Rome's millennial celebrations. His handling of the influx of thousands of pilgrims to celebrate 2000 years of the Christian church has been widely applauded.

Mr Rutelli is now on good terms with the Vatican - and gestures such as remarrying his wife, the prominent journalist Barbara Palombelli, in church have been interpreted as signals that he is attempting to cosy up to the Church even more.

Modern image

But while Mr Rutelli may have established warm relations with the bastion of Italian traditionalism, he is otherwise carefully cultivating his image as a representative of a young, modern Italy.

He has been taking advice from US spin doctor Stan Greenberg, a past mentor to Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, Gerhard Schroeder and most famously the man behind the Al and Tipper Gore kiss at the Democratic convention.

But like Mr Gore, Mr Rutelli looks likely to be pipped at the post by his rival. Despite making gains on Mr Berlusconi, it seems unlikely that the left will make up enough ground to remain in power.

Leadership doubts

Mr Rutelli is as inexperienced on the international stage as he is in national politics, though his website may try to highlight his scant international experience - as an MEP and adviser to the UN.

Silvio Berlusconi
Berlusconi: not so pretty... but much richer
Further doubts have been raised by his meandering career, from radical to friend of the Vatican.

Many are confused about where his political heart really lies, accusing Mr Rutelli of remaining vague on questions of policy.

But this election campaign has had little to do with policy, and all to do with image, money, and the media.

While Mr Rutelli may be considered to have the prettier smile, Mr Berlusconi outguns him by far in the other categories.

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