Berlusconi fails a 'test poll' in Milan

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The Independent Online

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was facing political humiliation in his home city of Milan last night after seeing a far-left contender thwart his centre-right candidate in the Italian city's mayoral elections.

The poll was seen as a referendum on Mr Berlusconi's premiership after he had personally dominated the campaign to ensure that his PDL (People of Freedom) candidate Letizia Moratti was re-elected. But the centre-right's campaign of dirty tricks and mud-slinging appeared to have backfired last night as three polls showed the leftist lawyer Giuliano Pisapia emerging with small leads over Ms Moratti.

Even allowing for the exit polls' 5 per cent margin of error, it appeared highly unlikely Ms Moratti would have enough votes to avoid a run-off. A second round would be held on 29-30 May, giving the centre-left its best chance in nearly 20 years of winning the city government in the billionaire Prime Minister's stomping ground.

The bad news for Mr Berlusconi, 74, came just hours after he emerged from a Milan court where he is fighting a bribery charge.