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Despite Much Huffing and Puffing, Italy's Political Landscape Is Mostly Unchanged
The photo op of voting in Italy, predictably, featured a showgirl. Noemi Letizia, the leggy 18-year-old at the center of a would-be scandal that has dominated Italy's campaign season, was followed by a pack of paparazzi as she cast her first-ever vote in Naples on Sunday. Donning designer sunglasses and accompanied by her parents, Letizia presumably sided with Silvio Berlusconi's center-right coalition, though both she and the Italian Prime Minister have repeatedly denied anything "spicy, or more than spicy" (as the PM put it) to their mutual affinity.
By now, Italian politics seems much more about the show on TV than the showing at the ballot box. Indeed, after so much huffing and puffing on the campaign trail, the results from weekend voting left the political landscape in Italy mostly unchanged. Berlusconi's People's Freedom Party notched 35% of the electorate, safely ahead of the center-left challengers but short of the runaway victory the 72-year-old billionaire Berlusconi had hoped for.
The biggest beneficiaries of the relative status quo were two smaller groupings on opposite sides of the political spectrum. On the left, the Italy of Values Party, led by former anticorruption prosecutor Antonio Di Pietro, tallied 8% by appealing to voters who want a more aggressive approach in taking on Berlusconi. On the right, the once separatist Northern League Party, allied with Berlusconi, collected an impressive 10% of the vote, as its sometimes nasty anti-immigration rhetoric registered with an electorate feeling the effects of the economic crisis.
Among Italy's more mainstream opposition parties, the results confirm deep division. There's now a risk that Italy's left might splinter further, mostly because nobody can agree on how best to take on Berlusconi, a man who has dominated politics for 15 years with the most personalized of approaches to governing. Questions remain about the use of the presidential aircraft to bring entertainers to Berlusconi's villa on Sardinia, and reports are circulating of additional racy shots in a series of photos recently published by the Spanish daily El País that showed naked and half-naked visitors inside the Prime Minister's island estate. Democratic Party leader Dario Franceschini, once considered a measured and somewhat soft-spoken figure, has found his voice in attacking Berlusconi's private behavior. Meanwhile, Di Pietro, in celebrating his party's doubling of its support at the polls, called Berlusconi "fascist ... and racist."
The Prime Minister will no doubt fight back at the accusations with all the means at his disposal. But his most potent weapon may be his teeth. "Beware of anyone who doesn't smile!" he told voters at a recent campaign rally, flashing his trademark toothy grin. "Beware of anyone who takes themselves too seriously!" The show, my friends, must go on.
Go to Page 3 to read about the election in France.