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Berlusconi heads for poll victory

Italy votes
More than 80 percent of eligible voters went to the polls  

ROME, Italy -- Silvio Berlusconi's centre-right coalition has won an absolute majority of seats in elections for Italy's upper house of parliament, taking him a step closer to becoming the country's next prime minister.

CNN's Alessio Vinci says Berlusconi's centre-right bloc has secured 168 seats in the 315-seat Senate. Former Rome Mayor Francesco Rutelli's centre-left Olive Tree coalition is said to have 106.

There are also nine unelected life senators so 163 seats have to be secured for an absolute majority.

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One analyst calls Italy's current election campaign 'undoubtedly the dirtiest since 1948.' CNN's Alessio Vinci reports

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Berlusconi edging to victory

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 BIG PICTURE
Italian election has wider European repercussions
 
 ELECTION WATCH
Italian parliamentary elections
 
 COUNTRY PROFILE
At a glance: Italy

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In the larger Chamber of Deputies, unofficial projections indicated Berlusconi's coalition would have between 365 and 330 and the center-left between 280 and 250. A majority in the chamber is 316.

Release of the partial official results removes any doubt that the Berlusconi bloc might not capture the Senate after earlier figures suggested a tight race in the upper house.

Projections indicated that the centre right would comfortably sweep to victory in the lower house of parliament.

The final tally for each house was still unclear. Under Italy's complex electoral system, 75 percent of the members in each house are directly elected. The rest of the seats are apportioned according to how many seats each party gets in the election.

The results have been delayed by a combination of slow counting and a complex proportional representation system.

Some polling stations had remained open six hours beyond their scheduled closure with the last vote being reportedly cast at 4 a.m. (0200 GMT) on Monday. Violence is reported to have broken out at one station in Naples.

The electoral chaos has been blamed on the interior minister cutting back by a third the number of polling stations. More than 80 percent of the eligible 49.5 million Italians turned out to vote in Sunday's election.

The markets had been looking for a clear victor to avoid the political instability that has bedevilled a country which has seen 58 governments since 1945.

Marco Niada, from Il Sole newspaper, told CNN that the close result should not undermine Berlusconi's power base if elected. "If he wins by a narrow margin he should be all right," he said.

He added that Berlusconi was "wise" enough to put European stability ahead of promised big public spending and tax cuts plans if it threatens to incur a huge national debt and damage to euro stability.

But Shinichi Sato, manager of investment strategy division at Tokyo-Mitsubishi Securities, said: "When the euro was launched, it was supported by a structure of the 13 centre-left participant EU countries, but the centre-right victory in Italy could risk shaking such a structure."

Early signs showed that Berlusconi's party, Forza Italia, gained at the expense of his allies the Northern League. The league's vote collapsed to about four percent from the 10 percent it gained in the last general election in 1996.

Berlusconi has promised to address any accusations of conflict of interest between his multi-billion dollar media empire and the role of leader.

He has said he will resolve any alleged problem by drafting a law in the first 100 days of his rule, if elected to power. Berlusconi was premier for seven months in 1994 but his government fell when a key ally dropped out of the coalition.



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