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Tuesday, 15 May, 2001, 22:34 GMT 23:34 UK
Northern League comes out fighting
Umberto Bossi, leader of the Northern League Party, gestures as he speaks to the media
Mr Bossi - confident he will be a decisive factor in the Senate
By David Willey in Rome

Italy's Northern League Party and its leader Umberto Bossi may have been big losers in Sunday's general election - but the party now holds a key say in who wields power in the country.


We are a decisive factor in the senate

Northern League Leader Umberto Bossi

Mr Bossi, whose party follows anti-immigrant and separatist policies, emerged in fighting mood at his first news conference in Milan since the vote.

He claimed a key post - that of speaker of the lower house of parliament - the chamber of deputies - for the Northern League and proposed that his number two Roberto Maroni should get the post.

Berlusconi, who won general on Sunday, said that people had clearly voted for change
Italy's election winner - Silvio Berlusconi
Silvio Berlusconi, winner of the election, has a majority of 53 seats in the lower house and does not need Mr Bossi's support.

However, Mr Berlusconi has a majority of only 14 seats in the Italian upper house - the senate.

The Northern League has 17 seats there and Bossi said: "We are a decisive factor in the senate."

The formation of the new Italian Government is expected to take at least 10 days.

Mr Berlusconi has given no indication yet as to which cabinet posts he is going to offer his various political allies.


Political analysts say the reason why Mr Bossi fared so poorly was that his rough rhetoric has begun to annoy many ordinary Northern Italians

Although votes for the Northern League slumped from 10% in the last general election to less than 4% last Sunday, Mr Bossi has made it clear that he is holding out for key roles for his party in the new Berlusconi administration.

Political analysts in Italy say the reason why Mr Bossi fared so poorly in the election was that his rough rhetoric - often xenophobic and anti-European - has begun to annoy many ordinary Northern Italians who used to find his separatist ideas interesting.

Now that his concept of creating an independent state of Padania in the north has been revealed as totally impractical and Utopian, support has begun to fade away.

Eurosceptic

Mr Bossi's anti-immigration policies also make little sense in a booming part of Italy, where employers are crying out for labour and the economy cannot function properly without foreign workers.

Mr Bossi is also a convinced Eurosceptic.

He recently claimed, for example, that "technocrats and paedophiles" at EU headquarters in Brussels were trying to create a "Soviet Union of the West" that would strip European countries of their sovereignty.

This sort of language may also frighten Mr Berlusconi, who is strongly supportive of the EU as Italy prepares to change its currency to the euro.

Poor exposure

Another reason for Umberto Bossi's poor electoral performance may be that he enjoyed relatively little TV exposure during the recent election campaign.

Neither the three commercial TV channels controlled by his political ally Silvio Berlusconi, nor the three belonging to the State TV RAI, gave his party much air time.

Silvio Berlusconi must also still be remembering with some anxiety how it was that Mr Bossi's sudden withdrawal from his previous coalition in 1994 led directly to the fall of his first government in December of that year.

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See also:

15 May 01 | Europe
Berlusconi lays out big plans
14 May 01 | Europe
Temperatures rise in chaotic poll
11 May 01 | Media reports
'Life is not beautiful' if Berlusconi wins
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