Poll tips right alliance to win Italian election

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THE ITALIAN right, including the neo-fascists and the Northern League and led by the seemingly unstoppable Silvio Berlusconi, the media tycoon, could win a majority of seats in the March 27-28 elections, according to an opinion poll published yesterday.

The CIRM institute, in an elaborate survey conducted for the daily newspaper, La Repubblica, calculated that the right would win at least 310 of the 630 seats in the next parliament, and possibly as many as 340. For an absolute majority, it would need 316.

It was the first poll to calculate predictions in the knowledge that 75 per cent of the seats in parliament will be won first-past-the-post and only 25 per cent by the old proportional system. The survey used voting patterns in the 1992 elections and 20,000 telephone interviews during a 40-day period ending last Sunday.

The left, which until the appearance of Mr Berlusconi had looked likely to win the elections, stands to gain between 200 and 240 seats, CIRM found. The two centrist parties - the electoral reformer Mario Segni's Pact for Italy and the Popular Party (former Christian Democrats) - would have 55-75, with up to 35 seats going to other, unallied parties.

Another poll yesterday, of the Directa institute, found that 33.4 per cent of Italians felt that 'it would be dangerous for democracy' if Mr Berlusconi won a majority. However, 59.1 per cent said it would not. Other polls have indicated confusion among voters, faced with a changed political scene. One found two-thirds of Italians undecided; another said 81 per cent did not know how the new voting system works and yet another, using a trick question, found that 5 million would be prepared to vote for a non-existent party, supposedly led by the Argentine footballer, Diego Maradona.

There is still more than a month until the elections and the campaign has not officially begun. Unforeseen factors could also influence the outcome including, lately, the rejection of a number of party lists either because they did not have the 2,500 signatures required or because of confusion over the new system.

Although Mr Berlusconi has seemingly pulled off the remarkable feat of uniting the right, his Freedom Alliance, as it is called, is fragile. His accord with the Northern League and right-wing former Christian Democrats envisages a possible government coalition. But the co-operation deal between Mr Berlusconi and the neo-fascist-led National Alliance in the South does not.

Moreover, marriage between Mr Berlusconi's Forza Italia and the Northern League is not based on love. The tycoon recently dismissed Umberto Bossi, the League's leader, as 'coarse and contradictory' and said the only affinity between them was that they were both born in Lombardy.

In return, Mr Bossi promised at an election rally on Monday that there would be a struggle for domination of the right-wing alliance: 'Forza Italia, which was born to destroy the League, must not have hegemony. The League must be in control.' Even allowing for election rhetoric, harmony does not seem to be the right's strong point.

Leading article, page 19

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