Court confirms Prodi's victory

A top Italian court confirmed the slim electoral victory of centre-left leader Romano Prodi in the lower house of parliament, although premier Silvio Berlusconi’s conservative coalition was not conceding defeat.

A top Italian court confirmed the slim electoral victory of centre-left leader Romano Prodi in the lower house of parliament, although premier Silvio Berlusconi’s conservative coalition was not conceding defeat.

The Court of Cassation, which is conducting a review of contested ballots from this month’s parliamentary election, said Prodi had won the lower house by about 24,000 votes – a margin virtually unchanged from the one previously announced.

The review of disputed ballots for the upper house was still underway, delaying official certification of the results of the April 9-10 election. However, the small number of contested ballots in the Senate was not expected to reverse Prodi’s slim victory in that chamber either. Preliminary reports by regional offices confirmed Prodi’s victory.

After the court’s announcement yesterday, Prodi said Italians should have no more doubts about his electoral win.

“Finally the electoral affair is over,” Prodi told a news conference at his Rome headquarters. “Italians have no more doubts about our victory.”

“We are aware of the rifts and the divisions that we will have to heal. As we are aware of the problems and difficulties we will have to face.”

Prodi said he had not received a phone call from Berlusconi, indicating the premier was still unwilling to concede defeat. “He didn’t call me and I don’t know why,” Prodi said in a response to a question.

Minutes after the court’s announcement, a top Berlusconi ally said the conservative coalition was not conceding defeat.

The announcement “does not exhaust all the checks on the electoral results”, Giulio Tremonti, the economy minister, was quoted as saying by the ANSA news agency.

Thanks to a majority bonus aimed at making the chamber more governable, Prodi’s coalition is assigned 55% of the seats in the lower house, regardless of the vote gap.

Prodi gained a two-seat majority in the Senate, even though Berlusconi won the popular vote for the upper house, due to a complicated system of regional bonuses.

The court released its announcement after a review of some 2,100 ballots for the lower Chamber of Deputies that were not immediately included in the overall count as the voting intentions were not clear. In the Senate there were another 3,100 contested ballots.

The interior ministry reduced the number of contested ballots last week from a combined 80,000 for both houses to a combined 5,200 – boosting the likelihood that Prodi’s victory would stand. The ministry explained the confusion by saying that blank ballots and other invalid ballots had been lumped in by mistake with the contested ballot sheets.

In any case, it will be weeks before Prodi can take over as premier.

It is up to the president to give the mandate to form a government. However, the current president’s term expires in mid-May, and he has indicated he wants to leave the task to his successor.

Meanwhile, Prodi kept receiving calls of congratulations from world leaders, the latest being interim Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert. Prodi’s spokesman, Silvio Sircana, said US president George Bush – a close Berlusconi ally – had not called.

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