Berlusconi candidates have been barred from standing in crucial regional elections
A political comedy of errors has hurt Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's coalition less than a month before key regional elections, in the latest headache for a man already weighed down by a string of scandals.
In a fiasco that Italian newspapers said left Berlusconi fuming at his aides, his People of Freedom (PDL) coalition missed the deadline for registering candidates in Rome province for key regional elections seen as a test of national strength.
Rome province, the largest in the Lazio region of which Rome is capital, has more than 2 million voters. Thirteen of Italy's 20 regions will vote on March 28-29.
While not the largest or richest region up for grabs, Lazio is perhaps the most symbolic as it is the seat of the national government.
Losing it would be a major embarrassment for Berlusconi, who was shaken last month by a high-profile corruption scandal concerning the head of the civil protection agency, a close aide. Berlusconi also faces two trials, for tax fraud and for bribery. He denies all wrongdoing.
Lazio had been considered an easy win for Berlusconi's centre-right coalition because the region's ex-governor, Piero Marazzo, a leftist, resigned after a sex and drugs scandal. But the weekend's events have destroyed that certainty.
An opinion poll published last month showed Berlusconi's approval rating slipping to 46 percent after remaining at or above 50 percent for long periods. The new developments were certainly not good news coming four weeks before the elections.
Berlusconi's coalition said the deadline was missed because its representative was distracted outside the electoral office on Saturday by an argument with a member of another party.
But media reports and irate centre-right bloggers spoke of bungling and incompetence in the party, which commentators said could only hurt Berlusconi's image.
The representative not only arrived at the last minute but did not have all the proper documents with him. Some reports said the deadline was missed because of internal bickering about names of candidates for regional councillors.