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MNI (London)
--Victory in Sicily Foresees Possible National Win In 2018
--Coalition Among Parties Key to Beat Democrats, 5 Star Movement
By Silvia Marchetti
     ROME (MNI) - As of now, the chances are high that Italy's centre-right
could win next year's general election, thanks to the formation of a wide
coalition that appears able to defeat both the ruling Democratic party and the
populist 5 Star Movement, senior Italian officials have told Market News.
     Recent polls and surveys suggest that an alliance between former premier
Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia group, the populist Lega party and the former
fascists of Fratelli d'Italia, could pick up 40% of the vote Spring, when
Italian voters go to the ballot boxes to elect a new government.
     And it's not just mere hypothesis or forecast; recent results in local
elections underline the trend. 
     On Monday the centre-right coalition were confirmed as the winners of
Sicily's regional elections, picking up 40% of local votes. The 5-Star Movement,
who had boasted of an electoral stronghold in Sicily, crumbled to 35% of votes
while the Democrats came third with just 19%.
     The centre-right victory in Sicily, which acted as a testing ground of the
new alliance, puts Berlusconi's party back into the political game and is seen
as a possible prediction of what will happen on a larger, national scale next
year.
     Maurizio Gasparri, Forza Italia spokesman and vice president of the Senate,
argued that "joining forces is the key to victory, thanks to Berlusconi who
promoted cohesion among different centre-right parties". 
     This was directly opposed to the Democrats, who were being torn apart by
internal contradictions and "abstract debates" that were distancing them from
voters, he said..
     "Showing Italians a clear, common position and a united front like we do is
the winning strategy to adopt at the next general elections," said Gasparri.
     The centre-right has yet to define its overall program and political goals,
however, but so far it has been the first to grasp the importance of teaming up
and create a solid electoral coalition. The 5 Star Movement are not seeking any
alliances, while the Democrats, currently headed by former premier Matteo Renzi,
are tackling an internal crisis that makes forming a centre-left coalition a
distant dream.
     "We are facing a new rise of the centre-right and it is most likely that
the alliance between Berlusconi, Salvini and Fratelli d'Italia leader, Giorgia
Meloni, will win the next elections, or at the very least secure an impressive
vote at the detriment of both the Democrats and the 5 Stars Movement," said
Andrea Ungari, professor of history and theory of political parties at Rome's
LUISS University.
     According to Ungari, a possible centre-right victory should not be seen as
a surprise next year, as "all Europe is moving in that direction. Nationalist
and centre-right parties are taking foot across the union, including in France
and Germany, and I believe Italy's next vote will see a resurrection of
Berlusconi's party," he argued.
     If the centre-right triumph in Italy, Lega and Forza Italia will likely be
the major stakeholders, so the next prime minister will depend on who gets the
most votes between the two allies, said Ungari. 
     Berlusconi cannot run for office due to a 2013 tax fraud conviction, but
his appeal as "vote catcher" remains significant and he can still place his own
men at the helm of power.
     In the weekend's Sicily elections, where Forza Italia has always fared
relatively well, Berlusconi's party got 16.4% of votes while Salvini just 6%,
but it was the first time the "northern" Lega group had fielded candidates in
the southern region.
     On a national basis, however, the two parties are neck-and-neck at roughly
14-15%, with Lega currently having a narrow advantage. Support for Lega has been
steadily increasing in recent months and, according to recent studies, Italy's
new voting system, mostly proportional, might help Lega surpass Forza Italia and
win the centre-right leadership.
     Meanwhile, the weakened Democrats prepare for a heated party meeting in
coming days to discuss the defeat in Sicily, the latest in a series of losses
increasing the number of dissidents questioning Renzi's leadership and, by
extension, his candidature as prime minister.
--MNI London Bureau; tel: +44 203-586-2225; email: les.commons@marketnews.com
[TOPICS: M$E$$$,M$I$$$,M$X$$$,MC$$$$,MI$$$$,MGX$$$]
MNI London Bureau | +44 203-865-3812 | les.commons@marketnews.com

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