After a near dead heat between right and left in the Italian general election last month, this weekend will see a whole series of local elections—and none will be watched more closely than elections to the Sicilian regional parliament.
The outgoing president of the island is Salvatore Cuffaro, who had been hotly tipped to win.
He leads the Union of Christian Democracy (UDC), which is part of Silvio Berlusconi’s centre right coalition.
Rita Borsellino is standing against him from the centre left.She has never stood in an election before. However her name is well known because she is the sister of an anti-Mafia judge murdered in 1992.
Cuffaro and his party are a truly frightening proposition.
They dominate the Sicilian public sector, which means they dominate the island’s economy.
As agriculture commissioner during the 1990s, Cuffaro protected a Mafia employee who murdered two other employees as they were investigating corruption and Mafia infiltration within the parliament.
In a society where a single percent shift in votes is a political earthquake, Cuffaro came from nowhere in 2001 to massively defeat the anti-Mafia politician Leoluca Orlando and become president.
Just eight months later Bartolo Pellegrino, a regional councillor in Palermo in Sicily, was discovered by the police at a Mafia summit.
In 2003, it was announced Cuffaro would face trial for association with the Mafia. Accusations of revealing official secrets followed in 2004.
This January, on the same day that the UDC decided Cuffaro should run as president again, a UDC mayor was arrested for Mafia membership – with the police even finding a stolen pistol in his desk.
Cuffaro also stood for election to the Italian senate last month, and was easily elected.
If he wins this weekend he will have to decide what seat to hold – although being a senator gives him immunity from prosecution.
When Bernardo Provenzano, leader of the Mafia, was captured last month, some Cuffaro leaflets were found in his hideout.
Why do people vote for somebody like Cuffaro? Essentially regional government controls Sicily’s most precious resource – jobs.
It employs 60,000 people, directly and indirectly. And Cuffaro is even promising a massive public sector building project – a tunnel between Sicily and Tunisia.
Borsellino’s campaign has a mountain to climb. But it has already created an impressive network of new young activists.
Her strongest card is that she has the opposite reputation to Cuffaro’s. But apart from occupying the high moral ground, she isn’t really offering much to the unemployed.
While who to vote for is a no brainer, in the long term only really radical proposals can undermine the consensus Cuffaro has created.
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