I waited for the paper editions of Repubblica and the Corriere della Sera to check out the results of the administrative elections held over the weekend. Headline results are this: in the five major contests, the centre-right won two (presidency of the Sicilian region retained by Toto Cuffaro; Letizia Moratti becomes mayor of Milan), the centre-left three (Veltroni remains Mayor of Rome, Sergio Chiamparino mayor of Torino, and Rosa Iervolino mayor of Napoli). The two centre-right wins were expected, but the margin for Toto Cuffaro was slightly narrower than he might have hoped. Iervolino's win in Napoli - on the first ballot - was not expected.
Overall, of the twenty-three large comunes, fourteen went to the centre-left, four to the centre-right, with the remainder in the balance. This represents a net gain of two provinces for the centre-left since 2001.
What does this tell us about the strength of the various parties?
First, it remains a handy rule of thumb that Forza Italia performs better when Silvio Berlusconi is running for office. Forza Italia's performance in certain parts of the country was dire - polling less than 10% in Rome, for example. Whether this also involves a differential turnout effect is unclear.
Second, given this, it was foolish of Berlusconi to stake so much on these elections as the first test of the new Prodi government. (This is the argument of Paolo Franchi's editorial on te front page of Corriere della Sera). Over the next few months, it will be interesting to see whether Berlusconi's hard-nosed oppositionism succeeds, or whether Berlusconi will lose the co-operation of the UDC and (less likely) certain parts of Alleanza Nazionale.
Third, the centre-right seems to have a considerable problem in grooming leaders for the local or regional level. That is to say, centre-left mayoral candidates outpolled their parties; centre-right mayoral candidates were a drag on the ticket. See the graphic below.
Fourth, it's difficult to tell whether this election provides further ammunition for those who wish to see a single party of the left. Repubblica made much of the success of the united left in Torino, with Sergio Chiamparino, a supporter of the united party idea, as capolista.
Fifth, it doesn't seem that this contest will either buoy or weaken the government. Prodi can maintain his 'serenita`'.