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by MONITOR
THE Italian general election takes place on April 9-10 and at the moment Romano Prodi, the centre-left leader, has a four percentage lead in the polls over the incumbent prime minister Silvio Berlusconi. It is not a big margin of advantage but all the signs are that Mr Berlusconi is behaving like a man who knows that his time is over at last. He stormed out of one TV interview, complaining about the “hostile” questioning, and in the first TV encounter with Mr Prodi he came off second-best according to most political judges. Even more indicative may have been his outburst at a meeting of the Italian Confindustria (the Italian CBI) when he accused businessmen who supported Mr Prodi of having “skeletons in their cupboards”. He also accused newspapers of backing the left and inventing the country's economic crisis. One leading businessman suggested that Mr Berlusconi is on the edge of a nervous breakdown, saying “He is a tired man. His family should take him home and take care of him.” A leading newspaper said that he was “tilting at windmills”. It would not be surprising if Mr Berlusconi is feeling the pressure. Apart from the political and economic problems inseparable from the job he holds, he is once again in trouble with the courts. Italian prosecutors have now asked a Milan judge to lay charges of bribery and perjury against Mr Berlusconi and David Mills, the husband of British minister Tessa Jowell. The prime minister's supporters say that the timing is political, and it may be so. But his career is littered with accusations of corruption and other offences, from most of which, but not all, he has emerged unscathed. He commands huge newspaper and TV resources to argue his case for him and there is yet time for them to fully martialled in the election. Silvio Berlusconi has not brought credit to the Italian government during his time in office. A showman, his administration has been erratic. Romano Prodi, though by no means charismatic, would bring much-needed stability to the Italian government.