Berlusconi poll recovery shakes up Italy's election race

Fri Jan 18, 2013 10:12am EST
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By Steve Scherer

ROME (Reuters) - Four-time Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi extended his surge in Italy's opinion polls on Friday, increasing prospects that the center-left Democratic Party now leading the race will have to seek a pact with Mario Monti's centrist bloc.

With a little over a month to go before the vote, Berlusconi narrowed the gap with Pier Luigi Bersani's center-left coalition by 4 percentage points versus a week ago, but still trails by 6 percentage points, a poll published on Friday showed.

His gains follow a blitz on almost every television talkshow in Italy, where the 76-year-old billionaire has mixed blistering attacks on Monti's technocrat government, Germany and the left with promises to restore growth and scrap a hated property tax.

The surge has been reminiscent of 2006, when the flamboyant showman clawed back 10 percentage points and nearly robbed Romano Prodi of what looked like a certain victory just a month before the election.

But so far, despite similar results in several recent polls, there seemed to be little chance of an election shock giving Berlusconi a fifth term after the stew of scandals and the financial crisis forced him to step down in 2011.

"This time around, Berlusconi's ability to stage a comeback is limited," said Maurizio Pessato, vice chairman of SWG polling institute, which conducted Friday's poll.

"Berlusconi has lost a lot of credibility, more than he had before the 2006 vote, because of the failure of his government in 2011, and his personal scandals."

The poll showed the center-left alliance of the Democratic Party and the leftist Left, Ecology, Freedom party at 33 percent, down from 34.9 percent a week ago, with Berlusconi's alliance on 27.2 percent and Monti's bloc 13.7 percent.   Continued...

Italy's Prime Minister Mario Monti appears as a guest on the RAI television show Porta a Porta (Door to Door) in Rome January 14, 2013. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi