Silvio Berlusconi is starting to looking like a desperate man. With
only two weeks to go before Italian elections, he is consistently
trailing challenger Romano Prodi in the polls, and his behaviour has become more theatrical. Earlier this week one of Italy’s top businessmen suggested
he was approaching a nervous breakdown, after he had attacked Italy’s
industrialists for being in league with the left against him.

Since then he has described hostile protesters as creating a
“democratic emergency”, and accused Prodi of interfering in the
internal affairs of the United States when he questioned an American
security alert for visitors to Italy.

But no-one is writing Berlusconi off just yet. Recent elections have
been good for incumbents: Gerhard Shroeder’s amazing comeback in last
year’s German election is just one example. And Berlusconi knows that
he may be fighting for more than just his career, since his rivals
would be likely to strip away the legal immunities with which he has so
far avoided prosecution for alleged corruption.

It’s difficult to estimate the size of the opposition’s task. At the last election
in 2001, Berlusconi’s “House of Freedom” coalition won 282 seats
against the combined left’s 189. Since then, however, the government
has returned to a more proportional electoral system, which should make
for closer results. At the last electoral test, in regional elections
last year, the left made major gains.

I’ll be in Italy for the week leading up to the election (then moving
on to other parts of Europe), and I look forward to reporting on
progress. But you don’t have to travel to be involved. Each morning,
before and after the Italian news on SBS, you’ll see ads from the
Italian parties pitching to voters in Australia. One of Berlusconi’s
innovations, as The Guardian
explains, has been to create new electorates to represent Italians
living overseas. But whether it will do him any good remains to be seen.

Peter Fray

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