Alemanno’s sensational victory in Rome

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Gianni Alemanno of the People of Freedom list (PDL) is the new mayor of Rome. He defeated outgoing vice premier Francesco Rutelli (PD) by 53.7 to 46.3 percentage points in the direct run-off. Alemanno's victory is the second major triumph for the centre-right in only two weeks after Berlusconi's general election victory of April 14.

Rome had been ruled by the centre-left for the last 15 years and Rutelli himself had been mayor from 1993 until 2001. Just a month ago, nobody would have predicted such an outcome as many had taken Rutelli's victory for granted. But the general disenchantment with the centre-left which has swept all over Italy has now also caught up with the capital.

Maybe it was the vice premier's overconfidence which made many Romans switch sides. After he had won the first and now meaningless round of April 13/14, Rutelli commented that Alemanno would need "to recover 82,000 votes. That's a stadium, a mid-size city". Moreover, he haughtily advised his opponent to take up a seat on Berlusconi's cabinet table for lack of chances to win the capital.

The centre-left's excessive self-belief makes the election result all the more symbolic. The PD's campaign tactics to portray Alemanno as a neo-fascist fizzled out as most voters regarded the aberrations of his youth as a thing of the past and focused instead on what the new mayor will do to confront the main problems facing the eternal city. Above all, Romans see crime and public safety as a most pressing issue. It is in this area that many perceive outgoing mayor Walter Veltroni to have failed.

Rutelli's poor performance therefore also comes to haunt Veltroni. After the double-defeat in the general elections and the loss of power in Rome, the current PD leader may see his authority within the party questioned.

Veltroni was elected as leader of the PD only last autumn and hailed as a great hope for reviving the popularity of the centre-left after prime minister Prodi had fallen out of the public's favour. Now that Veltroni's PD has been defeated twice (with the Roman election outcome being completely unexpected and therefore more painful), the PD will have to do a lot of soul-searching.

In the meantime, Alemanno's triumph sends another positive signal to the PDL, a political force which was formed only very recently as a fusion of Forza Italia and the National Alliance. The merging of the two parties has so far been an extraordinary electoral success, vindicating the strategic vision of Silvio Berlusconi and Gianfranco Fini in making that move.

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