A dirty campaign for Milan’s mayor turned into bad news for prime minister Silvio Berlusconi. The Berlusconi-backed candidate lost the first round to the opposition party in the premier’s own hometown.
Berlusconi put all of his support and money behind incumbent candidate Letizia Moratti. With a campaign budget between 10 and 20 million euros, Moratti plastered Milan with posters and slung mud at her opponent. Moratti went so far as to suggest that her challenger, Giuliano Pisapia, had a criminal record.
Berlusconi personally campaigned for Moratti and attacked the opposite party. The prime minister even insinuated that members of the centre left party did not bathe often enough.
The rude campaign, which outspent Pisapia’s own budget of 1.5 million euros, was not enough to hold on to the mayoral seat. Current estimates give 48% of the votes to Pisapia and just 41.6% to Moratti. While not quite enough to reach the 50% required for immediate election, Pisapia is expected to win the mayoral seat when the Milanese cast their final ballot in 15 days.
Berlusconi treated Italy’s Sunday-Monday local elections as the first electoral test since being accused of having improper relations with an underage escort. The public vote is the last until Italy’s general elections in 2013.
In his hometown of Milan, Berlusconi only mustered 29,000 preference votes for his leadership, compared to 53,000 in the last election.
The turning of tides in Milan suggests that support for Silvio Berlusconi may finally be diminishing.