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Eyeing national vote, Berlusconi celebrates win for center right in Sicily

From Reuters - November 6, 2017

PALERMO, Italy (Reuters) - Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi looked poised on Monday for a stunning political comeback as his rightist bloc claimed victory in an election in Sicily that puts it in pole position for a national vote due by next May.

The regional Sicilian ballot, held on Sunday, was seen as a dry run for the nationwide election, with many of the islands problems reflecting those of the country as a whole - high unemployment, a debt mountain and sluggish economic growth.

An influx of migrants, many of whom arrive in Sicily after being rescued in the Mediterranean, was also a key issue.

With all of the votes counted, a center-right bloc backed by the four-times prime minister was more than 5 percentage points ahead of the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement, with the center left, which governs at the national level, a distant third.

Sicily, just as I asked, has chosen the path of real, serious, constructive change, based on honesty, competence and experience, the 81-year-old said in a video posted on Facebook.

Nello Musumeci, the center rights candidate for governor of the island, had 39.8 percent of the vote, while the 5-Stars Giancarlo Cancelleri had 34.7 percent. The center lefts Fabrizio Micari was lagging on 18.7 percent.

The result puts Berlusconi back on the political map after years of sex scandals and graft allegations which had seemed to have reduced the billionaire media mogul to a spent force.

Berlusconi cannot run for office due to a 2013 tax fraud conviction. But he hopes the European Court of Human Rights overturns this ban when it reviews his case later this year,which would pave the way for a possible national challenge.

He returned to the fray after open-heart surgery last year and campaigned actively in Sicily. Even if the courts deny him the chance to run, he would be an influential figure should the center right capture power again nationally.

The result on the island deals a stinging blow to another former prime minister, Matteo Renzi, head of the ruling Democratic Party (PD), which is locked in feuding with erstwhile leftist partners.

After a raft of vote setbacks in recent years, Renzi has many critics inside the PD who may now try to mount a challenge to his leadership.

Defiant in its defeat, the anti-system 5-Star Movement vowed to reach national government next year, and its leader Luigi Di Maio declared the PD politically dead.

Opinion polls suggest the center right will win next years national vote, but a recent change to the electoral law is likely to stop any one bloc winning an absolute majority of seats, resulting in political gridlock.

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