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ROME – Italians concluded two days of voting Monday, with Pier Luigi Bersani seen as winning a strong plurality of the votes, but billionaire media kingpin Silvio Berlusconi likely doing well enough to keep control of the Senate from Bersani while making Berlusconi — and the media empire he controls — the main opposition.
The final, official results will not be known until Tuesday or Wednesday. But as of late Monday, exit polls showed a clear delineation between the top four candidates, with Bersani earning around 38 percent of the votes cast, Berlusconi and his allies at around 29 percent, with 20 percent going to comedian-turned-activist Beppe Grillo, and incumbent Mario Monti finishing fourth with around 10 percent.
Bersani’s control of parliament’s lower house seems assured. But Bersani and Berlusconi appear to be neck-and-neck in the race to control the Senate. If the final results reflect the information in the exit polls, it will likely force Bersani to make an alliance with another candidate to secure a Senate majority. That would also make Berlusconi the main opposition figure.
Political analysts said that Berlusconi’s control of the three national television networks in his Mediaset empire would make him a powerful force in opposition.
“For those who hoped these elections would finally mean the end for Berlusconi, that doesn’t appear to be the case,” said Antonio Conti, a political scientist with Roma Tre University.
Berlusconi has been prime minister three times before. The last time, he was forced to step down amid personal and legal scandal and fears Italy could fall victim to the European debt crisis.
The debt fears have since receded, but scandal continues to follow Berlusconi: in recent months he was sentenced to four years in prison for tax evasion, while prosecutors have asked for an additional year behind bars in a wire tap case, while his trial for abuse of power and paying an underage girl for sex will continue next month.
He has also been forced to pay his former wife, Veronica Lario nearly $50 million a year in alimony, while he announced plans to wed Francesca Pasquale, a woman 49 years his junior.
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