Berlusconi leading in Italo election

If elected, will indirectly oversee mainstream Italian TV

ROME — First projections on Monday indicated conservative media baron Silvio Berlusconi was scoring a solid victory in the Italian Senate in his comeback bid for the premiership after a campaign weighed down by questions over his vast wealth and his right-wing allies.

Projections carried on state TV indicated that Berlusconi’s center-right bloc was taking 46% in the upper chamber of Parliament while the center-left coalition led by former Rome Mayor Francesco Rutelli was taking 40%.

Sunday’s election reps Berlusconi’s second try at a comeback. His 1996 bid ended in failure and brought the center-left to power for the first time.

Both at home and abroad, Berlusconi, 64, has been dogged by questions about conflicts of interest. If elected, he will indirectly oversee all mainstream Italian television — his own three Mediaset channels and pubcaster RAI’s three rival channels.

Despite complaints from many national and international quarters about conflicts of interest between his $12 billion media empire and his political aspirations, bets are that Berlusconi will still try to exercise control over Mediaset once he’s in power.

Berlusconi has vaguely promised to set up “a blind trust” in which to park his assets within 100 days of his electoral victory.

As prime minister, Berlusconi may try to squelch legislation extending antitrust limits on the media in order to protect the status quo in which Mediaset enjoys a 45% national audience share and a 66% slice of the TV ad market.

Questions also persist about his choice of right-wing allies — the once-fascist National Alliance and the often xenophobic Northern League. Berlusconi’s forces in Sicily also allied with the Tricolor Flame, an openly neo-fascist party.

(The Associated Press contributed to this story.)

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