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ROME (Reuters) - Italy's opposition Democratic Party elected three-time former minister Pier Luigi Bersani as its new leader on Sunday, in a vote overshadowed by the resignation of a centre-left regional governor amid a blackmail scandal.
In a Sunday poll, in which anyone over the age of 16 could vote, Bersani, 58, was chosen to lead a party riven by squabbling since being soundly defeated by Silvio Berlusconi's conservatives in last year's general election.
The vote came a day after Piero Marrazzo, the PD governor of the Lazio region around Rome, announced he was stepping aside amid an investigation into charges four policemen blackmailed him using a video allegedly showing him with a transsexual.
However, the scandal failed to dent voters' commitment and turnout was higher than predicted at more than 2.5 million voters, party officials said.
Final results were not expected until Monday but interim leader Dario Franceschini acknowledged Bersani had won a clear victory and he conceded defeat hours after polls closed.
"I will be my own style of leader, one that thinks the PD cannot be a one-man party," Bersani told journalists at PD headquarters. "A popular party must be a collective and that will be the key to my work."
Bersani, regarded as close to former PD leader and prime minister Massimo D'Alema, was regarded as the most traditionally left-wing of the candidates contesting the leadership.
He is also reportedly more open than Franceschini to forging alliances with other opposition parties, like the centrist Catholic UDC party.
The clear favourite to win the leadership, Bersani served as minister for economic development in former prime minister Romano Prodi's 2006-2008 government. He has also held the posts of industry and transport minister.
Franceschini had led the PD since former leader Walter Veltroni stepped down in February following a resounding regional election defeat in Sardinia by Berlusconi's party.
Berlusconi has often been on the defensive in recent months, due to sex scandals, judicial setbacks and most recently a row with Economy Minister Giulio Tremonti. However, a poll published Sunday showed his government enjoys a solid 44 percent approval rating.
(Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

Reuters