Berlusconi not giving in just yet

40,000 disputed ballots to be checked by Friday

Italy remained in limbo Wednesday as Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi continued to refuse to concede defeat in an election apparently won by center-left leader Romano Prodi by a wafer-thin majority.

The race was decided by about 25,000 of 38 million votes cast on Sunday and Monday.

A check of 40,000 disputed ballots could be completed by Friday and then must be confirmed by Italy’s highest court, but most political commentators don’t expect the result to change. However, Berlusconi could lodge a further legal challenge.

Whatever the outcome, it is up to head of state President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi to nominate the new government; Ciampi, whose term ends May 18, said Wednesday that he wanted his successor to do this.

The new prexy will be decided by parliament vote on May 12-13.

If Prodi is confirmed as prime minister, the split vote is expected to consign the country to political gridlock, with Berlusconi leading a strong opposition at the head of his Forza Italia (Let’s Go, Italy), which, with 23% of the vote, remains the top force.

Meanwhile, Prodi reiterated that he would draft an antitrust law to address Berlusconi’s “conflict of interest” with his Mediaset media empire, adding this would not be done in a spirit of “revenge.”

Mediaset stock dropped two points on news of Prodi’s intentions. But whether such measures could actually be taken remains to be seen.

“The new government will be very weak, so there is plenty of skepticism regarding the effective introduction of any kind of legislation concerning Mediaset,” said a Milan bourse analyst.

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