Berlusconi stuns Italy's left in Sardinia vote

Other News Materials 17 February 2009 15:21 (UTC +04:00)

In a surprise result Tuesday, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's conservatives triumphed over Sardinia's centre-left governor and Tiscali internet company-founder, Renato Soru, in the island's regional elections, dpa reported.

With most of the ballots counted, Soru garnered 43 per cent compared to the centre-right candidate Ugo Cappellacci's 52 per cent.

In the weeks ahead of Sunday and Monday's voting, Berlusconi frequently appeared at rallies across Sardinia in a show of solidarity with the relatively unknown Cappellacci.

Pre-election surveys had predicted a much closer outcome, with most giving a slight advantage to Soru who has governed the island since 2004 and was backed by Italy's largest opposition Democratic Party.

On Tuesday Soru accepted defeat, but suggested that his campaign was damaged by negative publicity from Berlusconi's media empire which includes Italy's three largest private television channels.

"It's obvious that the difference in access to the means of communications, may have influenced the result," Soru was quoted as saying by the ANSA news agency.

Sardinia becomes the second region Berlusconi's conservative have captured from the centre-left since their victory in April 2008's national elections. In December they won in the central Abruzzo region.

But the poll in Sardinia where Berlusconi owns a holiday villa - in which he has hosted Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and former British counterpart Tony Blair - was seen as more of a personal battle.

Sardinian-born Soru, rated in 2001 Forbes magazine as one of the world's richest men, is regarded by some as the centre-left's answer to Berlusconi, Italy's most famous billionaire-turned-politician.

Soru made environmental issues, including safeguarding Sardinia's ruggedly beautiful coastline, the central theme of his term in office and pushed for the closure of a US military base on the islet of La Maddalena.

But critics scorned as populist some of his initiatives including "luxury taxes" on non-residents owning second-homes on the island and on those whose yachts were longer than 14 metres.

His plan to prohibit any construction within 300 metres from the sea, drew criticism from many in his own coalition, who said it risked hampering the island's heavily tourism-dependent economy.