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Last Updated: Friday, 7 April 2006, 10:36 GMT 11:36 UK
Poll gives Italian expats a voice
Little Italy, New York
Italian immigrants in the US have a new-found voice in the Motherland
Expatriate Italians have been voting in the first general election to include candidates representing the diaspora.

Some experts say their votes could help sway the result of the contest between the centre-right PM Silvio Berlusconi and his centre-left rival Romano Prodi.

Before now, Italians wanting to vote had to return home.

But a law in 2001 allowed them not only to vote abroad, but also to choose MPs and senators standing in and for four new "overseas constituencies".

These are: Europe, North and Central America, Latin America and Africa-Asia-Oceania.

More than three million Italians living in those areas, who registered to vote, will elect 12 of the 630 MPs in the Italian lower house and six of the 315 senators.

OVERSEAS BALLOT RETURNS
Europe: 38.45%
Latin America: 51.54%
North America: 37.32%
Africa Asia Oceania: 44.07%
Total: 1,133,577

The candidates must live in their respective constituencies.

Argentina, with more than 400,000 eligible Italian voters, has the highest number of Italians living abroad after Germany.

Dario Ventimiglia, of Mr Prodi's L'Unione, is standing in Argentina as a senator for Latin America. He told BBC Mundo that his prime objective was getting rid of Mr Berlusconi as prime minister.

"Our second battle is to fight for the rights of Italians abroad, as we are treated like second-class citizens," he said.

"Relations between Argentina and Italy do not exist. Our people have been abandoned."

Roads to Rome

Italian language teacher Lorenzo Losi, who has lived in London for 30 years, is standing in the Europe constituency for a seat in the Senate.

I'm very proud of my Italian heritage - and now, finally, immigrants have a voice
Giuseppe Tramontana

He says proper campaigning and canvassing of Italian communities has not really been possible, but he has travelled to Germany, Belgium, France and Switzerland to meet as many as possible.

"For Italians abroad we have underlined our aim to improve consular services, social services for our old immigrants and in particular a big effort to improve the spreading of Italian language - courses for second, third and fourth generation Italians abroad," he told the BBC's World Today programme.

Mr Losi says overseas MPs will also have to get used to travelling back and forth to Rome.

Buenos Aires
Italian posters have decked out the streets of Buenos Aires
"It's forecast that MPs elected abroad will work in Rome Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday morning and the rest of the days at their constituencies," he said.

He added that the law was not passed with great enthusiasm in Italy and he thinks that although it has been a good experiment, it will need a complete review after this election.

Second generation

The elections take place in Italy on Sunday and Monday.

By Friday, the Italian Foreign Ministry said 1,133,577 Italians had sent in their votes - 42.01% of the electoral packs sent out to the constituencies.

The new system also allows second-generation Italians who have got citizenship through their parents to take part in the elections.

New York-born Giuseppe Tramontana, 32, said he grew up speaking Italian at home and regularly visits relatives in Sicily.

"I'm very proud of my Italian heritage," he told the Associated Press. "And now, finally, immigrants have a voice."


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