As Italian candidates sling mud,
voters left to sort through mess
Posted 4/5/2006 9:06 PM
By Eric J. Lyman, Special for USA TODAY
ROME — Italian voters, who head to the polls this weekend to select the country's 58th
government since World War II, are more eager to talk about who they won't support than
which candidate they like.
At a pair of rallies in Rome a week before the vote, dozens of supporters on each side
argued vehemently why either incumbent Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi or opponent
and former prime minister Romano Prodi was the wrong man for the job. But they had
little to say for the man they preferred.
"This is a sad state because given the country's economic conditions, it would be easy
to think that the country is ripe for a dramatic change," says Ferdinando Targetti, an
economics professor at the University of Trento, referring to Italy's sluggish economy.
"Instead, there are two campaigns focusing on what each sees as the other's weak points."
Targetti says Berlusconi has tried to cast Prodi as out of touch with most Italians, bent on
raising taxes and ready to give the European Union too much of a say over Italy's domestic
policies. Prodi, who also is a former European Commission president, has described
Berlusconi as a poorly prepared and self-serving leader who uses government to achieve
his own aims.
"All Berlusconi has ever done is use the government to pass rules to add to his fortune," said Giancarlo Conti, 44, an administrator for
Rome's AS Romasoccer team. Conti attended a rally for Prodi on Friday night that featured live music and a popular film director: Nani
Moretti, who sparked more applause than the candidate. "We need a leader who will govern for the benefit of Italy and not for his own
benefit," Conti said.
Anna Margherita Galloppa, 59, had a different view. "Prodi is so boring, and all he wants to do is raise my taxes when I don't earn
enough as it is," said the secretary, who attended a more subdued Berlusconi rally — the music was canned — on Saturday.
In Italy, voters elect representatives to Parliament. Whichever coalition of parties wins a majority of seats in the legislature will select
the prime minister and form a government. The vote will be held Sunday and Monday. The two-day election assures that as many
voters as possible can get to the polls.
This past Monday, during the final debate before the elections, the two candidates did little to add substance to the campaign. For 90
minutes, they jabbed, counterpunched and dished out insults.
Berlusconi said he didn't believe Italians were "moronic enough" to vote against their own interest by supporting his opponent's
coalition. Prodi said Berlusconi was unqualified to hold office and repeated a half-dozen times that he would "bring seriousness back
to Italian politics."
At one point, Prodi said Berlusconi was clinging to power while making up numbers like "a drunk hanging onto a lamppost in order to
stay on his feet," unaware of the light it cast upon him. Berlusconi said Prodi was "an idiot, but a useful idiot" because he made the
contrast between the two men clear.
At the end of the debate, Berlusconi unveiled a plan to repeal property taxes on primary dwellings and challenged Prodi to match his
pledge. Prodi did not have time to reply.
Major newspapers including La Repubblica and Corriere della Sera said such a repeal would leave most municipal governments
without a source of revenue. "In order to win a few votes, (Berlusconi) is willing to leave 8,000 mayors with empty bank accounts," a La
Repubblica editorial said Tuesday. "It is unlikely he would try (to implement the pledge) if elected."
Election laws prohibit polling in the three weeks before a vote, so there were no surveys after Monday's debate. During the final round
of opinion polls released in late March, Prodi led by 4 to 5 percentage points — a margin he has had since February. But as much as
a fifth of the electorate remained undecided.
"It seems like the election could be decided by the undecided voter who makes a decision in the final days," says Maria Rossi, co-
director of the Opinioni polling group, which on March 22 gave Prodi a 4.7-percentage-point lead.
Copyright 2006 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.
By Andrew Medichini, AP
Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, right, and his
opponent Romano Prodi shake hands prior to
their prime-time debate on Monday in Rome.
This article originally appeared in