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Published: Saturday, 4/19/2008

Berlusconi's back

ITALY'S two days of elections have produced an interesting victory for veteran center-right politician Silvio Berlusconi.

For Mr. Berlusconi, 71, this is his third return to the stage as prime minister. He served briefly in 1994 and then again from 2001 to 2006. He is a billionaire, estimated to be the third richest person in Italy, primarily based on his media holdings. He has sometimes embarrassed the Italians with intemperate language, including in international gatherings.

It is nonetheless the case that it may require someone with his punch and nerve to attack some of Italy's truly major problems. One of these is a huge national debt, proportionately as large as America's. Others, more mundane but sensitive, include a huge pile of uncollected garbage in Naples and the financial peril within which Alitalia, the national airline, which just brought Pope Benedict XVI to the United States, chronically operates. Alitalia is, for example, sometimes for sale but no one wants to buy it.

Mr. Berlusconi won a comparatively large victory in Italian political terms. His party, the People of Freedom, won large numbers of seats in both houses of the Italian parliament. Of perhaps more long-term importance in Italian politics is the fact that the number of parties holding seats will likely fall from 20 in the results of the 2006 elections to five this time.

A move on Italy's part toward a two-party system would probably make governance there more efficient. The country has had 62 governments since the end of World War II. For comparison, the United States has had only 11 presidents in the same period.

Italians obviously considered Mr. Berlusconi better suited than his principal opponent, ex-Rome Mayor Walter Veltroni, 52, head of the center-left Democratic Party, to tackle the country's problems.

The country's fundamental economic problems, low growth, and consistent under-performance, will be harder to deal with than the garbage and a staggering airline.



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