Berlusconi Curses as Italy Prepares to Vote
Right up to the end, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's outrageous personality has dominated news of Italy's general election to be held Sunday and Monday.
If it wasn't the right-wing media magnate's personal poll of phone sex girls (seven out of nine said they favored his candidacy, he claimed), it was his description of people who might vote against him with a Italian insult so vulgar the international online media had difficulty translating it. ("Idiots," said the Toronto Star. "Bloody stupid," said the Independent Online in South Africa. "[Unprintable]" said the EITB news agency of Spain and "[equally offensive]" said The Age in Australia.)
Meanwhile, Berlusconi opponent Roman Prodi, an economics professor and moderate leftist, has played up his lack of charisma with the message, "I'm dull but at least I'm safe."
The personality contrast seems to have worked in Prodi's favor, with the incumbent trailing by at least 3 points in final polls taken this week.
The contest is widely watched in Europe because of Berlusconi's conservative politics and his domination of Italy's broadcast media. Martin Jacques of The Guardian of London called Berlusconi "the most dangerous man in Europe" and said "he poses a profound threat to democracy in Italy."
Berlusconi has gone so far as to say Prodi's government will be controlled by communists.
Prodi has promised to withdraw Italy's 2,600 troops from Iraq "as soon as possible," while Berlusconi, a supporter of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, wants to keep them there through December.
Prodi has promised to institute an inheritance tax but has not specified at the size of the estates affected, leading some to fear he will raise their taxes. In the candidates' second debate, Berlusconi used his closing statement to promise to abolish a tax on first homes, a move that some think could capitalize on Prodi's vulnerability or boomerang as a gimmick.
The Italian press was divided about who came out ahead in the debate, according to a BBC survey. Il Giornale, a daily owned by Berlusconi's brother, concluded that the prime minister had prevailed while the leftist press praised Prodi' performance.
As for Berlusconi's choice of the word "coglione" (which literally means "testicles"), there is no dispute. The country's bishops condemned it. The left-wing La Repubblica newspaper said it "reveals the lowest level of democratic and civil respect." Even Il Giornale agreed that "a statesman should not use the word 'coglione' to describe anyone, friend or foe."
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