'Berlusconi's Win May Signify New Political Stability in Italy'

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PLINIO LEPRI/AP

Italy's Silvio Berlusconi (center) salutes the crowd after his success

TIME.com: Silvio Berlusconi's center-right Forza Italia party looks to have swept to a decisive victory in Italy's election. Why has the country's political preference swung back from the left to the right?

Greg Burke:The primary reason for Berlusconi's clear-cut victory is that the mainstream party of the left ran without concluding an election pact with the smaller parties of the left, particularly the reformed communists. The left won the last election precisely because they had an agreement with the communists, but this time the left vote was fractured. That was the central reason for the change. The final results are not yet in, so it's difficult to judge, but many on the left are saying they still won the popular vote. Italy's system is very strange — last time the left won the election but parties of the center and right actually won a larger share of the popular vote. It's not unlike what recently happened in the U.S.

If the vote swing is so narrow each time, how did Berlusconi managed to win what appears to be a stable majority in both houses?

The scale of Berlusconi's victory may be a product of the fact that his center-right Forza Italia grew at the expense of far-right parties such as the Northern Leagues and the National Alliance. Last time he was in power, his majority depended on the support of the Northern Leagues, and that proved to be his downfall. This time, Forza Italia appears to have emerged as the largest party in Italy, having replaced the traditional Christian Democratic Party as the bulwark of the right. Although he still has the Northern Leagues in his coalition, their share of the vote was slashed to 4 percent and that means they’ll think twice before bolting his coalition, as they did in 1996, to bring it down.

Italy has averaged around one government a year since the end of World War II. How stable is Berlusconi's latest one?

If the pattern holds and his coalition wins a majority in both houses with his own party so much stronger than its partners, then it's a relatively stable government that could last the full five-year term. It's noteworthy that Italian voters punished small parties in this election. They've long been the bane of Italian politics, because with 3 percent of the vote you could make or break a government. But besides the hard-line communists, who scored 5 percent, all of the smaller parties suffered at the polls. This time the voters opted for the larger parties on both the left and the right.

What were the primary issues that divided Berlusconi's camp from that of his rival, Francesco Rutelli?

This campaign was less about issues than about personalities. Whether voters were for or against Berlusconi. On the issues, both sides were promising tax cuts, getting tough on crime, better pensions, a more efficient bureaucracy. There were differences of degree, of course. But for the most part, it was a personality-driven campaign. And it really revolved around not two personalities, but one — Berlusconi. And despite the left's attacks on his partnership with far-right parties and questions about a conflict of interest arising from the fact that the media magnate will now have control over the state-run networks against which his own holdings compete, Italian voters appear to have preferred Berlusconi.