Italians began voting in two-day national elections Sunday that will determine Silvio Berlusconi’s political future — and have likely ramifications for the mogul’s TV empire and the country’s arts and entertainment community.
Elections pit the conservative Berlusconi –Italy’s longest-serving prime minister since World War II — against center-left candidate Romano Prodi, who defeated Berlusconi for the premiership in 1996.
In polls conducted before a blackout on polling was imposed two weeks ago, Prodi led Berlusconi by five percentage points, with 10% of the country’s 47 million voters still undecided.
The final stretch of the campaign saw a torrent of mudslinging, epithets and charges that Mediaset tried to favor its owner. The country’s media watchdog last week fined the commercial web for airtime bias.
Berlusconi has referred to Italians who will vote against him as “coglioni,” which translates as “dickheads”; Prodi, in their final TV debate, compared Berlusconi to a drunk.
The climate is considered nearly as heated as when Italians voted in 1948, in the first election following the Mussolini regime.
The Patti Smith song “People Have the Power” has been getting lots of play on leftist radio, while Nanni Moretti’s satirical anti-Berlusconi pic “The Cayman” is dominating the box office.
If the center-left wins, Prodi has vowed to draft a conflict-of-interest law to ensure that media ownership and political power are isolated from one another.
Anticipating other possible repercussions, such as more stringent limits on ad sales, Mediaset chief executive Fedele Confalonieri opined in a recent interview that “the left can’t seek revenge by punishing Mediaset.”
For Italy’s film community, having Berlusconi out of the picture would likely mean the restoration of more subsisidies, which have been drastically cut by his government.
Polls close at 3 p.m. today, with official results expected this evening.