Hopefully we'll lose Bush buddy Silvio Berlusconi today!

Bumped from the diaries -- Jonathan

It's Sunday. Time to pray. Parliamentary elections are being held today (and tomorrow) in Italy. The race is extremely tight between Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's centre-right-extreme right coalition and former Prime Minister and former EU Commission President Romano Prodi's centre-left-extreme left opposition.

In the last opinion polls ten days ago Prodi was slightly ahead. But, really it's a toss up. Berlusconi is apparently so afraid he could lose that he actually promised to withdraw troops from Iraq by the end of the year.

Links and more info below the fold.

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Socialist Bachelet Poised to Win in Chile

Update [2006-1-15 20:31:23 by Jonathan Singer]:Bachelet wins

Since the fall of dictator Augusto Pinochet in 1990, Chile has continuously supported the Socialist presidential candidate, and it appears that Chilean voters will not buck this trend in today's runoff election between conservative Sebastian Piñera and socialist Michele Bachelet.

Driving around Santiago and other Chilean cities last week, one could not help but get the impression that the people were supporting Piñera. After all, hundreds of young people had taken to the streets waving large Piñera flags, and Piñera's advertising on the street at times dwarfed that of Bachelet. But the images belied the truth of the situation on the ground, as Piñera -- a billionaire with immense stakes in the nation's credit card industry, the major airline, a national television network and other areas -- was merely astroturfing.

The latest polling out of Chile indicates that once again, Chileans are ready to support the socialist candidate, with Bachelet leading by a 53-47 margin. According to The New York Times' Larry Rohter, much of this lead stems from Bachelet's promise to fix the nation's pension program, which has been gutted as a result of privatization (Chile instituted a plan similar to the one forwarded by President Bush). In another story, Rohter reports that Piñera's attempts to bring divisive social issues into the race (such as the fact that Bachelet is a single mother, and that she may support abortion) have largely failed to swing voters into his column.

For more coverage of the campaign, check out these stories from The Washington Post and the Associated Press, as well as the stories from Daily Kos reader litho (here and here). The Wikipedia also has a comprehensive artice about the election as well, for those interested.

The Center Appears to Hold in Israeli Politics

As many of you have no doubt seen already, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is now recovering from his second stroke in as many weeks, though it appears extremely unlikely that he will be able to remain a candidate for the March 28 Knesset (parliament) elections. Late last year, Sharon shook up Israeli politics by leaving Likud, the center-right party he had helped found more than three decades earlier, and founding the Kadima Party to reclaim the center of the political spectrum.

Sharon's bold move appeared to be paying off as early polling showed Kadima claiming 41 mandates in the 120-seat Knesset, nearly twice that of Labor (21 seats) and significantly more than that of Likud (11 seats).

But with Sharon's strokes have come significant questions about the viability of his new centrist party. Although Kadima certainly has a vision -- a two-state solution fostered by a measured unilateral pullout from the West Bank -- it was founded as the party of Arik Sharon. So can Kadima survive without Sharon at its helm? Yedioth Ahronoth has the answer.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's Kadima party headed by Finance Minister Ehud Olmert would win 39 Knesset seats were elections held today, with Labor winning 20 seats and the Likud trailing behind with 16, a survey commissioned by Israel's leading newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth revealed Friday.

The survey, conducted by the Dahaf Institute, also revealed that Shas would win 9 seats, the Arab parties would receive 7 seats, Meretz - 6 and Shinui - 4.

...

According to the poll, if elections were held today with Kadima led by (former Labor Prime Minister Shimon) Peres, the party would receive 42 seats - only three more than if the party was headed by Olmert. Labor would win 17 seats, with Likud winning 16.

Parsing through the numbers, it appears as though a unity coalition between Kadima and Labor is on the cusp of the 61-seat majority required to lead the Knesset, regardless of whether Ohlmert or Peres is leading Kadima. If also allied with the Shinui Party and/or the Meretz Party, which are both more or less center-left, the coalition would have more than enough power to govern effectively without having to court some of the more extreme parties that often dictate Israeli policy. (By the way, there are a lot of political parties in Israel, many of which have members in the current Knesset).

All of this, of course, is very tentative, and anyone who has watched Israeli politics in the past would strongly warn against placing too much emphasis on polling -- especially a survey that was conducted as the Prime Minister was on the operating table. What's more, it's not entirely clear that Ohlmert, who will likely lead the Kadima Party, would even choose such a centrist coalition; he very well could create a right wing coalition with Likud and the religious parties (though this scenario isn't entirely likely either due to Ohlmert's relatively acrimonious break with Likud).

This all said, despite the dire condition of Ariel Sharon (or perhaps as a result of it), there remains a distinct possibility that Israeli politics will exile its most conservative elements to the fringe and settle instead in the middle. And if there is any hope for peace in the region, this might be a good start.

Canadian Govt Defeated

New elections up north:Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin's minority government was ousted Monday by a parliamentary vote of no confidence. There will be new elections in Canada, probably in late January.

There were cheers after the three opposition parties in Canada' s Parliament joined together and passed a no-confidence motion in the Liberal Party government on Monday night. The 171-133 vote ousted Prime Minister Paul Martin's government just 17 months after it took power.

Hard to imagine the Liberals coming back from this one. A no confidence vote after twelve years of power is usually the end of the line. Still, it will be difficult for any other party to form a new coalition, so this will be one to watch.

Blair on the Ropes with a 50 point Decline in Trustworthiness

This is remarkable:

A YouGov poll for the Daily Telegraph finds that while 73 per cent of voters believed the prime minister could be trusted in October 1997, this has now fallen to 25 per cent.

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