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Italian judges check ballots in disputed national election

[JURIST] Judges in Italy Thursday began examining some 43,000 problematic ballots to see whether including them in official returns might change the result of a national parliamentary election [Wikipedia backgrounder] held April 9-10 that seems to have given former center-left prime minister Romano Prodi [campaign website, in Italian] a narrow victory over current conservative incumbent Silvio Berlusconi [official profile; JURIST news archive]. Official results [latest tabulations, in Italian] from Italy's Interior Ministry [official website] indicate that Prodi's winning margin - in the lower house of parliament, just 25,000 votes out of 38.1 million ballots cast - was the narrowest in modern Italian history. Berlusconi has already called for a recount and has suggested polling irregularities, although he has backed away from earlier statements alleging outright fraud [Reuters report]. Approximately 1 million ballots were rejected outright, and Berlusconi has demanded checks be carried out of some 60,000 polling stations nationwide. An editorial in the Milan daily Corriere della Sera Thursday raised the prospect of an "Italian-style Florida", hearkening back to the US recount ordeal in the aftermath of the 2000 Presidential election [JURIST archive]. Ironically, a law adopted early in Berlusconi's administration that allowed Italians overseas to vote from abroad may have helped to topple him; expatriate Italians now have 6 senators and 12 deputies, and turned out in significant numbers [AP report] in the US and elsewhere to exercise their franchise for the first time.

The results of the Italian vote must be certified by the country's highest court before becoming official. Parliament is scheduled to meet April 28 and has to select a new president by May 13, who in turn will have to call on either Prodi or Berlusconi to attempt to form a government. Outgoing president Carlo Azeglio Ciampi [official website] has declined in the circumstances to name Prodi to office in the waning days of his own term. AP has more.

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