Centre-left resurgence continues in Sicily

Victory for PD in Catania, ahead in Messina, Siracusa, Ragusa

Centre-left resurgence continues in Sicily

(By Paul Virgo) Rome, June 11 - The centre left has continued its strong showing in the first mayor round of local elections since February's national vote with a good performance in Sicily, results showed on Tuesday. Candidates representing the centre-left Democratic Party, which has been hit by internal turmoil after it failed to win February's general election, took Rome and 10 other provincial capitals in run-off votes staged Sunday and Monday. The outcome gave the PD a 16-0 win over ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi's centre-right alliance when one counts the victories centre-left candidates sealed in the first round last month by winning over 50% of the vote - making run-offs unnecessary. Sicily, meanwhile, held first-round votes for many town and city councils on Sunday and Monday, including provincial capitals Catania, Messina, Siracusa and Ragusa. Former PD Senator Enzo Bianco is the new mayor of Catania, after claiming just over 50% of the vote in the first round, while centre-right incumbent Raffaele Stancanelli had around 37%. The centre left's Felice Calabro just missed out on taking Messina in the first round. He won 49.94% of the vote%, with Renato Accorinti, the head of a group opposed to the idea of building a bridge across the Strait of Messina to connect Sicily to the mainland, second with 23.88%. Centre-left candidates were also ahead in Siracusa and Ragusa ahead of run-offs. Premier Enrico Letta, a PD member who has been at the helm of an unprecedented left-right government since April, said Monday that the local election results had strengthened his administration. "It seems that overall this result reinforces the system of a broad coalition government," said Letta, who has repeatedly reiterated that his government was the only way out of two months of impasse following February's inconclusive vote. "That's how I read it. It's a result that spurs me and us to keep working". The outcome should also strengthen the position of the PD and Letta within the government alliance. Berlusconi and the PdL had been emboldened by the PD's recent troubles and their rise to first place in the opinion polls and have made a series of demands about the policies that the government should adopt. The PD is the biggest group in parliament but it has been ravaged by internal divisions after former party secretary Pier Luigi Bersani squandered a big lead in the polls before February's election with a colourless campaign. This culminated with the PD coming first by a narrow margin in the vote and not having a working majority in parliament, which eventually forced it to form a seemingly unnatural alliance with their bitter rivals in the PdL. But the local elections have now put the PdL on the defensive, with several centre-right lawmakers admitting they showed the party is dependent on the campaign prowess of Berlusconi, who took a back seat in the run-up to them. "I think we have to acknowledge the defeat and accelerate the process of reorganising the party that has been launched," said PdL Senator Domenico Scilipoti. "It clearly emerges from these local elections that the PdL does not have a presence at the local level and when Berlusconi does not make a personal effort in the campaign, the centre right just collects loud defeats". Beppe Grillo's anti-establishment 5-Star Movement, which captured around a quarter of the vote in the general election, was largely absent from the run-offs after suffering a big fall in support in the first round of voting. It did, however, manage to get mayors elected in the towns of Pomezia near Rome and Assemini in Sardinia. The turnout for the run-offs, however, fell dramatically with respect to the equivalent vote in 2008, with less than half of eligible votes taking part. Experts saw this as another sign the Italian public is extremely disillusioned with its political class.

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