The stakes are high for Silvio Berlusconi as Italians go to the polls in local election run-offs.
The premier took a battering in the first round, in his stronghold of Milan especially, with centre-right mayor Letizia Moratti beaten into second place.
“If Letizia Moratti loses Milan, if Berlusconi and Bossi lose Milan, I think the government will fall,” said political analyst Franco Pavoncello of John Cabot University in Rome. “It might not fall the next day but I think that the tensions that will be created within the coalition will lead to the fall of the government.”
If centre-left challenger Giuliano Pisapia does consolidate his advantage at Moratti’s expense, Berlusconi’s leadership could be challenged. Sex scandals and corruption cases have already weakened him.
A Milan resident who gave his name as Claudio said he hoped for a Berlusconi victory in the city but thought Pisapia would win.
“Berlusconi is still steady. but there is hope he will soon be replaced, because people are tired of him,” added fellow Milan dweller Dante.
Initially stunned into silence by the first round results, the man himself has been campaigning with a vengeance. Berlusconi predicted Milan would become what he called an “Islamic gypsyland” if the left wins and accused leftist voters of lacking a brain.