Italy's main center-left party Monday claimed victory after the second round of local elections, while acknowledging that the strong showing of a protest movement was cause for reflection.
"There's no doubt we won 2012, despite amusing efforts to pretend otherwise," Democratic Party leader Pierluigi Bersani said at a press conference in Rome.
Almost 25% of Italy's voters were eligible to cast ballots in this year's local elections, the first time the country has gone to the polls since conservative tycoon Silvio Berlusconi resigned as prime minister in November to make way for a technocrat cabinet headed by Mario Monti.
Center-left candidates won six of the 10 biggest cities up for grabs, including Genoa, Palermo and L'Aquila, Piacenza and the Milan suburb of Monza, final tallies released Monday showed. Of 26 provincial capitals, the Democratic Party took 14, prying seven away from Berlusconi's People of Freedom party, which won only four.
Bersani said he took comfort in the Democratic Party's success in Monza, near Milan, Berlusconi's home town and electoral bastion.
That party "is paying the price for supporting the economic policy of Monti's government," Mariastella Gelmini, a minister in Berlusconi's previous administration, said on television.
The local elections propelled Federico Pizzarotti, the candidate of comedian Beppe Grillo's Five Star Movement, a broadly left-leaning but angry new party, to become the mayor of Parma, a city wracked by local corruption in recent years. That an upstart party could take 60% of the vote in an important town was "cause for reflection," Bersani said.
Turnout for the vote was 54%, a level analysts say reflects widespread skepticism among Italians about traditional political parties.
General elections are not slated for Italy until the spring of 2013. If a national election were held now, Bersani's party would take 24% of the vote, more than any other, according to a poll released last Friday by the SWG institute. Berlusconi's party would win 17.9% while Grillo's Five Star Movement would garner 13.7%, according to that poll. A third of the votes would go to parties not currently represented in parliament, including self-styled communist parties and one called "The Right."
Many of the weekend winners were candidates from Democratic Party allies, suggesting that coalition politics will be critical for Bersani.
Some 56% of those polled by SWG expressed support for the parties in the broad bipartisan parliamentary majority supporting Monti's government. The government has pushed through tax hikes and pension cuts and plans to reform labor laws to convince investors Italy can sustain its EUR1.9 trillion ($2.43 trillion) in sovereign debt. A total of 44% of respondents to the SWG poll said they were undecided or would not vote.
-By Christopher Emsden, Dow Jones Newswires; +39 06 6976 6920; email@example.com