Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has gone head to head with his opposition rival Romano Prodi in their second and final television debate before the country’s general election next weekend. Like two Roman gladiators, the political adversaries traded metaphorical blows in front of the cameras.
The debate was dominated by the economy – particularly the issue of taxes. “The threshold for inheritance tax will be set somewhere above the figure of several million euros,” claimed Prodi, who has been accused of being vague about his centre-left party’s taxation policies. “I am sorry but the candidate from the left is not credible because when he will have to stand up in parliament to deal with financial issues, he will only have the backing of five of his MPs against 150 from the extreme left,” replied Berlusconi. During the debate, Berlusconi also promised that his centre-right party would abolish the ICI, or local property tax, if re-elected. The election campaign has been acrimonious since the start and this television debate was markedly more aggressive than the last. “We inherited a deficit of 19 billion euros from the left. That is why, as a country, we are so much in the red today,” claimed Berlusconi. “Public spending has spiralled out of control over the last five years. It is now far beyond the parameters set by Maastricht,” said Prodi, a former president of the European Commission. “I understand that the prime minister does not like any kind of constraints but I am afraid this is the reality that we have to live with,” he added. It is hard to gauge what impact such debates have on voters. But the last poll to be held before surveys were suspended claimed to show Berlusconi trailing five points behind Prodi. Campaigning over the remaining few days is likely to concentrate on winning over those voters who, as yet, are undecided.