Berlusconi faces another test with Italy referendums


Italians began voting in four referendums on Sunday that could strike a new blow against Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who is still stinging from heavy local election losses last month. The centre-left opposition has been leading a spirited campaign to get the voters out to cast their ballots on the questions, which concern the privatisation of water utilities, nuclear energy and whether government ministers can be exempt from attending trials against them. A central issue will be whether enough voters turn out to ensure the necessary quorum of 50 percent plus one vote. But if they repeal existing laws by voting yes, the result will likely have repercussions on his fractious centre-right coalition. “Behind the numbers lies the political fate of those who have taken a stand,” Il Sole 24 Ore, Italy’s leading business daily, said on Sunday. “It’s clear that a wave of ‘yes’ votes will result in a shock, perhaps the final one, for his (Berlusconi’s) premiership and even for his leadership of his party,” the paper said. At 1000 GMT on Sunday, some 12 percent of eligible voters had cast ballots, which gave the opposition encouragement that the quorum would be reached by Monday afternoon, when the two days of voting ends. A quorum would be a setback to Berlusconi because he has said he would not vote and some of his ministers have urged voters to boycott. For some, the votes will be a way to demonstrate their disappointment with Berlusconi himself, who is facing a sex scandal and three fraud trials.If the quorum is reached, it would mean that “more than half of Italians are pointing a finger against him”, Il Sole said. The referendum on nuclear power is the most emotive of the four, in the wake of the disaster at Japan’s Fukushima reactor in March. Polls say most Italians are against nuclear energy, which they consider unsafe in a country prone to earthquakes. Berlusconi is a big proponent of nuclear power, which the centre right says is indispensable for the future of a country that imports
nearly all its energy.