Berlusconi coalition sweeps to Italo victory

Right-wing media tycoon now aiming for top spot

MILAN — Italy’s right-wing coalition, led by media tycoon-turned-politician Silvio Berlusconi, won a surprising victory in regional elections Sunday, sweeping the wealthy center-north of the country and winning Lazio, the region that includes Rome.

Berlusconi and his allies — neo-fascist Gianfranco Fini and federalist Umberto Bossi — gained eight out of the 15 regional races contested; they had conquered only four regions in the previous elections.

Berlusconi, 64, entered the political arena in 1993, did a brief and disappointing stint as Italy’s premier in 1994, and then became leader of the opposition. The founder and owner of Italy’s largest media group is now campaigning for re-election as head of Italy’s government.

After this electoral victory he may succeed, but not before next year. Even if current Prime Minister Massimo D’Alema tenders his resignation as leader of Italy’s 57th government since World War II, it is highly unlikely that president Carlo Azeglio Ciampi would call elections ahead of the scheduled round next April.

Conflict of interest

In the meantime, the impressive victory he gained on Sunday will probably allow Berlusconi to continue disregarding the conflict of interest between his media interests and his political career.

Rumors of a pending sale of Fininvest or its TV subsidiary Mediaset circulated in the last few weeks, and many analysts thought the sale was inevitable if Berlusconi wanted to be re-elected premier. But most Italian voters seem unconcerned about this conflict of interest.

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