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The BBC's Brian Barron
"His front-men have no doubt about the result of the election"
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Prof Antonio Martino, Forza Italia
"The left has turned this election into a referendum for or against Mr Berlusconi"
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Thursday, 10 May, 2001, 13:44 GMT 14:44 UK
Italy gears up for close election
Election posters
Two main alliances dominate the political scene
By Frances Kennedy in Rome

On Sunday Italians will be voting in a general election.

Though by law opinion polls cannot be published in the run-up to the vote, it is expected to be a close contest.

The race is between two main blocs, the centre-left coalition known as the Olive Tree and the centre-right Casa delle Liberta, or House of Freedoms, though there are a handful of small parties running independently.

The campaign has been highly personalised and focused on the leaders of the two main alliances, media mogul Silvio Berlusconi and former mayor of Rome, Francesco Rutelli.


The Olive Tree coalition comprises the parties that have governed Italy since 1996: the Democratic Left, the biggest party, the Greens; the People's Party, which descends from the old Christian Democrats; the tiny Italian Communist Party; as well as several small moderate forces which go under the name of the Daisy Alliance.

Francesco Rutelli
Francesco Rutelli: leads a coalition of many small parties
But the leader and the prime ministerial candidate is not the current prime minister, Giuliano Amato, who was considered too much a part of Italy's political past.

Rather they have chosen Franceso Rutelli, the dashing former mayor of Rome who heads up the moderate Daisy Parties.

Fighting Mr Rutelli for the Prime Minister's chair that he occupied for seven months in 1994 is the media magnate Silvio Berlusconi.

His Casa delle Liberta alliance takes in his own party, Forza Italia; the Northern League, which has recently modified its separatist agenda; and Alleanza Nazionale, which has renounced its fascist past to transform into a democratic force. There are also two small Catholic parties.

Both of the alliances have components with very different political ideas so it is perhaps not surprising that policies have had even less space than usual in this campaign.


Mr Berlusconi has imposed a highly personalised campaign, trying to convince Italians that they are voting in a referendum for or against him.

Silvio Berlusconi
Silvio Berlusconi: criticised for conflict of interests
He's been much criticised for the unresolved conflict of interest between his billion-dollar empire and future public office, which he says he will sort out once he wins.

The media friendly Mr Rutelli has tried to focus on concrete proposals and has criticised his rival for refusing a face-to-face television debate.

He is disadvantaged by voter disappointment at what the Olive Tree coalition has achieved in its last mandate and internal bickering which saw them go through three prime ministers in five years.

Balance of power

In the final days before the vote, the non-aligned parties are being frantically courted.

The refounded Communists have refused appeals to form a united bloc against Mr Berlusconi and their candidates may well subtract vital votes from the Olive.

The radical party, which highlights civil rights and ethical issues, could also draw discontented voters away from both sides.

In Italy's hybrid system, 75% of candidates are elected by the first past the post system, 25% designated by proportional representation.

It is this proportional segment - where people vote for a party not an alliance - that will give a clear idea of the popularity of each force and determine their respective balance of power inside government.

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