Italian Prodi claims cliffhanger win in election

The outcome of Italy's most closely fought election contest in years hung in the balance early Tuesday after Romano Prodi, the head of the center-left coalition, claimed victory and Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's center-right coalition said the result was too close to call.

In a photo finish to the bitterly divisive campaign, results in the race to control the Chamber of Deputies showed that Prodi had won by a sliver, with 49.79 percent of the vote to Berlusconi's 49.73 percent, a difference of just 25,224 votes out of nearly 38 million cast.

Shortly before 3 a.m., nearly 12 hours after the polls closed, Prodi said the margin was enough to give him the slim majority of votes in the lower house required to form a government.

"Dear friends, we have won," he told the crowd of weary, cheering supporters waiting outside his Rome headquarters. "I feel I'm at the head of a new Italy."
But the results also showed that Berlusconi narrowly won control of the Senate, with 50.2 percent of the vote to Prodi's 48.95 percent.

Berlusconi's coalition immediately challenged Prodi's claim and suggested there should be a recount, saying the margin was too narrow to represent a proper victory.

"We don't believe that the center-left has won," Berlusconi's campaign spokesman, Paulo Buonaiuiti, told reporters. "They have not won in the Senate, and in the Chamber there is such a narrow margin. We demand a scrupulous check of the election ballots."

Results from overseas voting won't be known until later Tuesday, and with the two sides separated by such a narrow margin, it is possible that those votes could influence the final outcome.

The cliffhanger conclusion to one of the most acrimonious election battles Italy has ever seen pointed to the divisiveness of a campaign characterized by mudslinging, insults and profanities.

Opinion polls had consistently given a small but decisive lead to Berlusconi's challenger, Romano Prodi, whose Union coalition groups a diverse range of leftist parties. Initial exit polls Monday affirmed Prodi's edge, which quickly evaporated as the count progressed and it emerged that the race was much closer than expected, reports Chicago Tribune.


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