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Supreme court says Berlusconi loses

Silvio Berlusconi has officially lost Italy’s general election, ending the billionaire TV tycoon-turned-politician’s five-year tenure as the country’s leader.

The Italian supreme court on Wednesday confirmed center-left challenger Romano Prodi’s victory by a razor-thin majority of 24,755 votes out of 38 million cast more than a week ago.

Because of a bonus system, Prodi has a comfortable 64-seat margin in the 630-seat Chamber of Deputies but can count on a mere two-seat majority in the Senate.

Berlusconi — who was Italy’s longest-serving postwar prime minister — had initially requested a review of several thousand contested ballots, refusing to concede defeat.

On Wednesday, the mogul still did not acknowledge Prodi’s victory, remaining mum after the official count was announced.

A key Berlusconi ally, former finance minister Giulio Tremonti, said an appeal will be filed. Other members of Berlusconi’s coalition made statements accepting the electoral result.

The split vote is expected to consign Italy to political gridlock. While Prodi has said he will govern for the full five-year mandate, his government is seen as being on shaky ground. Parliament is therefore unlikely to pass legislation that could have ramifications for Berlusconi’s Mediaset web, such as a more stringent TV advertising limits. During Berlusconi’s mandate these limits were raised, allowing Mediaset to reap an estimated additional E2 billion ($2.47 billion) a year in ad sales.

Berlusconi still leads Italy’s strongest single political party, Forza Italia (Let’s Go, Italy), which garnered 23% of the vote.

Prodi has reiterated that a conflict-of-interest law, which would prevent Berlusconi from directly owning Mediaset while remaining in politics, is a top priority on his agenda.

Berlusconi is mulling transferring his 38% Mediaset stake to his five children, according to Italian press reports.

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