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Report: Italy’s top court confirms Prodi victory

Italy’s supreme court has confirmed Romano Prodi’s razor-thin victory over Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi in last week’s general election, an Italian television news channel said Wednesday.
/ Source: Reuters

Italy’s supreme court has confirmed Romano Prodi’s razor-thin victory over Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi in last week’s general election, an Italian television news channel said Wednesday.

The 24-hour Sky TG24 news gave no source for its report.

The court, which had been widely expected to make such a declaration later in the day, insisted official results of the April 9-10 ballot would only be know after 6 p.m. (1600 GMT).

Confirmation of victory would end days of political stalemate and clear the way for center-left leader Prodi to form a government next month.

Berlusconi has refused to concede defeat, alleging widespread irregularities and saying he hoped checks on disputed ballots would overturn the provisional results.

The Interior Ministry said last week there were not enough disputed ballots to swing victory to the media tycoon, but some of Berlusconi allies have since complained about other aspects of the election, including how the center-left vote was tallied.

The supreme court has not addressed those issues which means the center-right might yet try to overturn the official results in subsequent legal action. This could be a lengthy process and would be unlikely to prevent Prodi from taking power.

However, most of Berlusconi’s allies have shown no taste for a prolonged legal dispute and are preparing instead to provide fierce opposition to Prodi in parliament.

Even after the court’s verdict, Italy faces weeks of political limbo as a new government is unlikely to be appointed before the second half of May.

Presidential pause
Under the constitution, it is the head of state who gives the election winner the mandate to govern, but President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi -- whose term expires on May 18 -- has indicated the task should fall to his successor.

The new parliament, together with regional representatives, will pick a successor to Ciampi on May 12-13.

According to preliminary Interior Ministry data, Prodi’s coalition won in the lower house by just 24,000 votes. But thanks to new rules introduced by Berlusconi last year, the center-left will have almost 70 more seats than the center-right in the 630-seat lower chamber.

In the Senate, however, it will just have a two-seat majority.

The narrowness of the win has left many Italians wondering how long the next government will last and unsettled financial markets, which fret that Prodi will be too weak to enact unpopular reforms to kickstart Italy’s stagnant economy.

Even before the court’s final stamp on the results, cracks within Prodi’s bloc -- which stretches from Roman Catholic moderates to communists -- have already started to show.

The leader of the Italy’s most powerful trade union demanded the scrapping of a reform pushed through by Berlusconi’s government promoting labor market flexibility.

That stance is supported by Communist Refoundation -- which will have a powerful voice in the next parliament thanks to its strong election showing -- while Prodi wants to modify the law but not abandon it altogether.

Berlusconi says Prodi would be unable to govern on his own and has proposed a German-style grand coalition in which the center-left and the center-right would join forces.

Prodi has rejected this, saying he has a solid enough majority to form a government.