Silvio Berlusconi, billionaire entrepreneur and centre-right opposition leader, was on Monday night heading for a third term as Italy’s prime minister, with Walter Veltroni, leader of the centre-left Democratic party, conceding defeat after partial results gave Mr Berlusconi a clear lead.

Walter Veltroni, leader of the centre-left Democratic party, called Mr Berlusconi to concede defeat and offer his best wishes.

Speaking at his Rome party headquarters he said the election showed great participation of the people, with a turnout of just over 80 per cent. ”The results are clear. The right is going to govern,” he said, noting a signficant increase in votes for Mr Berlusconi’s most right-wing coalition ally, the Northern League.

Mr Berlusconi’s People of Freedom party and the Northern League, were on course for a clear majority in the lower house, and a narrower yet still manageable margin of victory in the senate.

Mr Berlusconi, 71, is the only post-war prime minister to have survived a full five-year term, but he had been written off by many, including some of his own allies, after his narrow defeat in 2006.

The results on Monday night pointed to a significant shift in the make-up of parliament. Both the centre-right alliance as well as the defeated centre-left Democratic party gained votes at the expense of several smaller parties that failed to cross the barrier.

The results confirmed that many Italians – voting for the country’s 62nd administration in the past 63 years – are tired of unstable coalition governments.

Umberto Bossi, leader of the anti-immigration Northern League and a coalition ally of Mr Berlusconi, was the first party leader to start celebrating. “We are strong,” he declared in Milan where his party emerged with a surprisingly strong result.

Fausto Bertinotti resigned as leader of the Rainbow Left alliance of communists and greens after a disastrous showing which was projected to leave them without a single seat in either of the two chambers. Mr Bertinotti’s own Communist Refoundation party had held 27 senate seats in the previous coalition government.

Mr Berlusconi successfully capitalised on the prevailing mood of anxiety in Italy, blaming higher taxes, food and fuel prices and falling incomes on the centre-left government of Romano Prodi.

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