Former Premier Romano Prodi's sweeping victory in a nationwide primary to select the center-left candidate for next year's election boosted opposition hopes Monday of unseating Premier Silvio Berlusconi.
Turnout stood at 4.3 million - a higher-than-expected participation -which organizers billed as a sign of discontent with Berlusconi's government.
Piero Fassino, the secretary of the biggest center-left party, said: "This is just the appetizer. Italians will hand him (Berlusconi) the rest at the elections." Fassino, who was not running in the primary, had thrown his party's weight behind Prodi. The election must be held by next spring; a date has yet to be set.
Prodi suggested Monday that a national election be held April 9, along with local voting. Berlusconi previously had indicated the election would be held in May, and reportedly wants to stick to that date.
The ruling conservatives insisted the center-left primary - Italy's first nationwide - was the opposition's internal business, and that it carried no significance for the election, the AP reports.
Boosting the opposition hopes is the fact that Prodi is the only one so far who has ever defeated Berlusconi in an election since the media mogul stepped into politics in the mid-1990s. A.M.