Berlusconi vows to keep Alitalia flying


Silvio Berlusconi quickly laid out his strategy on Tuesday for resolving Italy’s crises, from its ailing national airline to garbage piling up in Naples, a day after the media mogul and his right-wing allies triumphed in parliamentary elections.


Bolstered by support from an anti-immigrant party and a former neo-fascist grouping, the 71-year-old Berlusconi emerged from the election with a generous majority in both the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate.


Berlusconi’s forces will need their solid command of Parliament if they are to make headway in solving long-simmering economic and social problems, including ones that plagued his 2001-2006 government, Italy’s longest since the end of World War II.


Berlusconi also has indicated he plans to tap Franco Frattini, a former EU justice commissioner, as foreign minister and bring back Giulio Tremonti as finance minister.


Unemployment among youth has run high for years; prices of consumer goods have been sharply rising; inflation is at its highest levels in years; garbage has been accumulating in Naples and other southern cities, and the sale of Alitalia has been foundering.


Berlusconi announced his plans to tackle Italy’s problems even before he has been formally tapped to form the next government. Italy’s president was expected to ask him to try to form a government, but it was unclear when that would be, and each chamber of Parliament must approve the government – a process that can take a couple of weeks.


Berlusconi said on Tuesday he would keep his campaign promise to hold his first Cabinet meeting in Naples, where residents have been burning garbage clogging the streets. “I will be in Naples three days a week” to deal with the trash problem, Berlusconi said on state radio.


Berlusconi scored big among Naples voters, results showed.


He also promised to save Alitalia for Italians – which could doom attempts sell the failing carrier to Air France-KLM. During the campaign, Berlusconi called for Italian investors to come forward.


“I’ll get a grip on the situation, doing everything necessary so that the flagship company operates and remains at the service of tourism and of the Italian economy,” Berlusconi said on radio.


The conservative tide of voters also swept away from the next legislature the Communists Berlusconi loved to hate, and whom the staunch US ally set out to foil when he burst into politics nearly 15 years ago.


The Communists, whose fickle coalition support had helped to doom the center-left government of Romano Prodi, failed to win the minimum percentage needed to enter Parliament.


Also failing to make the cut were the Socialists, who for decades had been a key force in postwar governments.


“The country in this moment has turned in a big way to the right,” said Bobo Craxi, a politician who is the son of Bettino Craxi, the late Socialist premier.


This was Berlusconi’s fifth consecutive national campaign since 1994, when he stepped into politics from his media empire, currently worth an estimated $9.4 billion (Dh34.6 billion). He has fended off challenges to his leadership by his conservative allies, survived conflict of interests accusations and criminal trials.


When last premier, Berlusconi defied widespread anti-war sentiment in Italy and sent 3,000 troops to Iraq over the protests of thousands of Italians in the streets. The contingent has since been withdrawn.


He has ruled out sending new troops to Iraq, but his friendship with the United States is not in doubt.


Berlusconi held off a strong final campaign sprint by his main rival, Walter Veltroni, a former Rome mayor.


In the 315-member Senate, Berlusconi was projected to control at least 167 seats to Veltroni’s 130, with the other seats going to minor parties, final count of ballots cast in Italy shown. Overseas votes still needed to be counted, and what is considered to be a largely conservative constituency abroad might only swell Berlusconi’s margin in the upper house.


In the lower house, Berlusconi’s bloc garnered 46 per cent of the vote, while Veltroni’s bloc took 39 per cent, final results showed.


Berlusconi was helped by a strong showing by the Northern League, which won over 8 per cent of the vote. The League has strong regional identification and people in Italy’s wealthy northern regions have been complaining about Prodi’s tax increases and the demise of Milan’s airline hub Malpensa.


A Northern League leader Roberto Maroni said his party intended to make good on its campaign promise to crackdown on immigration. “Those with a job can stay. Those who don’t have one, will have to go,” Maroni said. (AP)