Italy's "next prime minister" woos left in swing region Sicily

Wed Feb 20, 2013 4:02pm EST
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By Robin Pomeroy

PALERMO, Italy (Reuters) - A live rock band and a charismatic warm-up act set the stage on Wednesday for the man introduced to Sicilians - whose votes matter more than most in an election in a few days' time - as "Italy's next prime minister".

The American-style build-up meant Pier Luigi Bersani, the leader of the Democratic Party (PD), struggled to make his rhetoric match the occasion, as he addressed the party faithful in a rally in one of two crucial swing regions.

Four days before polls open, Bersani is hoping Sicily, the southern island where a decade ago blanket support for centre-right leader Silvio Berlusconi wiped out the left completely, will swing back his way.

Along with Lombardy in the north, results from Sicily could decide whether the PD - which polls tip to win the lower house of parliament - can get enough seats in the Senate to rule Italy without risk of government collapse.

While Berlusconi promised tax cuts - even to pay some already collected back into Italians' bank accounts - Bersani has repeatedly told voters he rejects "fairy tales" and would stick with policies of Mario Monti's technocrat administration that was formed to pull Italy back from financial collapse.

As the 61-year-old expounded the merits of fiscal rigor - in words that seemed aimed at reassuring the holders of Italy's vast public debt - he appeared to lose the attention of supporters outside Palermo's opera house.

But he had only to invoke Berlusconi, a bogey-man for the left which says he did as much damage to Italy's reputation abroad as to its economy, to wake them up.

"We have heard from Berlusconi promises of 4 million jobs and we are still waiting for the first million from 10 years ago," said Bersani, who derided the media magnate and four-time prime minister as a "pharaoh" and "emperor".   Continued...

Italy's Democratic Party (PD) leader Pier Luigi Bersani smiles during a political rally in downtown Milan February 17, 2013. REUTERS/Alessandro Garofalo