Press ponder Prodi's wafer-thin victory

The papers consider the Italian situation a fragile one

The slim victory for Romano Prodi in Italy's elections has prompted much speculation in the Swiss media over the future course of Switzerland's neighbour.

This content was published on April 12, 2006 - 08:11

Prodi's centre-left alliance was declared the winner on Tuesday with a narrow majority, but centre-right prime minister Silvio Berlusconi has refused to admit defeat and has demanded a recount.

Official results show that Prodi has just enough seats to control both houses of parliament. He has rejected Berlusconi's calls for a grand coalition.

This was the first vote in which Italians abroad, including those in Switzerland, could take part from home and elect their own deputies. They played a decisive role in the outcome.

For the Swiss media, Prodi's win puts him in a difficult position.

"Such a fragile victory," lamented the French-language Le Temps in its headline.

It said that the spectre of an ungovernable Italy loomed, with Prodi in an "uncomfortable position". The election winner had such a small victory that governing would be "difficult if not impossible", it said.

In its commentary, the paper nevertheless saw some bright spots for Italy's relations with the European Union.

With the departure of Berlusconi and his largely anti-European government, the country could play a role in the EU again, not least because Prodi, a former president of the European Commission, was at the helm.

La Regione, from the Italian-language region of Ticino that directly borders Italy, also had its doubts about the slim victory and the internal divisions in Prodi's party.

But it also underlined some positive points. "Prodi will certainly have international support," wrote the paper.

Also in his favour, said La Regione, was the fact that many Italians were most probably tired of being marginalised in Europe and being represented by a "carnival figure" whose promises had not come true and instead had made the country poorer.

Pyrrhic victory

The Zurich-based Neue Zürcher Zeitung was also concerned about the close-run race.

"The wafer-thin majority and the slide to the left is leading to fears of a pyrrhic victory," wrote the newspaper in its lead.

It added that the winner was effectively instability, and perhaps even Berlusconi, who has "in a diabolical way" refused to concede victory to his rival.

The paper warned that the process of forming a government risked being a long one, especially as a new president had to be elected. This was likely to happen in the middle of May.

Berlusconi is likely to remain prime minister until then, as long as he keeps his head down and is not faced with a vote of no confidence, it added.

For the German-language Tages-Anzeiger, the process was an "election thriller". It said that despite the close margin and Berlusconi's sometimes questionable election tactics, it was important to remember that Prodi had won the ballot.

"[Prodi] ends an era that otherwise could have slowly become dangerous," it commented.

It added that in a democracy one vote could make the difference and Prodi's victory was therefore a legitimate one.

But there was no cause for celebration, added the paper. It went on to ask if Prodi's Unione coalition party and slim majority would be enough to push through much-needed reforms to open up markets and overhaul the state finances.


For the mass-circulation Blick newspaper, Berlusconi only had himself to blame for the outcome. He had scored two own goals in that he had changed the law so that the stronger party automatically gained 55 per cent of the seats in parliament, which handed the advantage to Prodi.

Berlusconi's challenger gained the upper hand among the Italians abroad, who were able to vote for the first time from home.

Le Temps pointed out that at least Italians living in Switzerland were elected to the Italian parliament.

It noted that in Switzerland Prodi had received more of the vote than Berlusconi. The Swiss Italians had showed themselves to be more to the left than Italian nationals in other European countries.

Overall voter turnout among Italians in Switzerland was strong at 48.2 per cent, said Le Temps, compared with the 36.3 per cent average for Europe.

swissinfo, Isobel Leybold-Johnson

Key facts

Romano Prodi's centre-left coalition has 340 seats in the Chamber of Deputies (277 for Silvio Berlusconi's centre-right party) and 159 seats in the Senate (156 for Berlusconi).
Berlusconi has contested the outcome and demanded a recount.
For the first time Italians abroad could elect their own representatives – 12 for the Chamber, 6 for the Senate.
At least three Italians living in Switzerland have been elected.

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In brief

Between 1950 and 1970 there was a large migration of Italians to Switzerland.

Around two million are estimated to have come to the country over this period and most returned after a few years.

Currently around 505,000 Italians live in Switzerland, including those with dual nationality.

374,000 had registered to vote.

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