Berlusconi Coalition Seen Taking Sicily Before 2018 Election

(Bloomberg) -- A coalition backed by former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi appeared headed for a narrow victory in Sunday’s regional vote in Sicily, defeating a populist challenge ahead of next year’s general election, according to an exit poll for state-owned RAI television.

Berlusconi Coalition Seen Taking Sicily Before 2018 Election

The estimate, by pollsters Piepoli Institute and Noto Sondaggi, credited Nello Musumeci of the center-right bloc with between 35 percent and 39 percent of the vote, against 33 percent to 37 percent for Giancarlo Cancelleri of the anti-establishment and euroskeptic Five Star Movement. Fabrizio Micari, running for the center-left Democratic Party of Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni, was credited with 16 percent to 20 percent.

Ballots in the contest for Sicily’s governor and assembly will be counted from 8 a.m. local time on Monday.

A center-right win would give momentum to Berlusconi, 81, as he seeks to create such a bloc for the national vote due in spring 2018, exploiting a new electoral system that favors alliances. Five Star, which insists on campaigning alone in all elections, has been hoping to win their first region.

Berlusconi’s Goals

Berlusconi also wants to overturn a ban on his running again for public office that followed a conviction for tax fraud. He denies wrongdoing in the case. In Sicily, he unveiled what he said was a center-right program for national government, including “less constraints from the European Union, less taxes, and less state.”

The parties’ performances, if confirmed, would be a setback for both ex-premier Matteo Renzi, the leader of the Democrats who faces more dissent within his party, and for Luigi Di Maio, the Five Star candidate for the premiership who’s campaigned in Sicily for weeks.

Musumeci, a former junior labor minister under Berlusconi, focused his campaign on boosting job creation, using European Union funds better, and a clean political record amid voter anger at the island’s mafia-tainted establishment.

Nationally, recent surveys show that a potential pre-election alliance of Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, the anti-migrant Northern League, and the right-wing Brothers of Italy party would beat both Five Star and the Democrats. But none of the three blocs are forecast to win an absolute majority.

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