New Straits Times


But pollsters predict centre-right party, far-right allies will emerge as largest bloc in Parliament


ITALIANS went to the polls yesterday in a vote that could bring political gridlock after an election campaign marked by anger over the listless economy, high unemployme­nt and immigratio­n.

Pollsters have predicted that former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s centre-right party and his far-right allies will emerge as the largest bloc in Parliament but fall short of a majority.

The anti-establishm­ent 5-Star Movement looks set to be the biggest single party, feeding off discontent over entrenched corruption and growing poverty, while the ruling centre-left Democratic Party (PD) is seen limping home in third place.

Heavily indebted Italy is the third-largest economy in the 19member euro zone, and though investors have been sanguine ahead of the ballot, prolonged political stalemate could reawaken the threat of market instabilit­y.

“I’d like to see the parties work together more for the good of the country... There was too much mud-slinging during the campaign,” said Luca Hammad, 20, while leaving a polling station.

“I hope these elections bring change for young people. Even if you find a job, wages are so low that it is hardly worth working.”

In a sign of the divisive climate ahead of the vote, some homes in Pavia, near Milan, were marked overnight with stickers that said: “Here lives an anti-fascist.”

Neo-fascist movements have been gaining ground in Italy, where a Nazi sympathise­r last month injured six Africans in a shooting incident.

The vote is being held under a complex new electoral law that could mean the final result will not be clear until late today.

Confusion over the new law led to mistakes in 200,000 ballots that had to reprinted overnight in Palermo, where some polling stations delayed opening amid protests from voters.

The campaign marked the return to frontline politics of Berlusconi, 81, who was forced to quit as prime minister in 2011 at the height of a sovereign debt crisis and widely written off after sex scandals, legal woes and ill health.

A 2013 conviction for tax fraud meant he could not hold public office, and he put forward Antonio Tajani, president of the European Parliament, as his candidate for prime minister.

Tajani’s moderate profile aimed to allay fears in Europe about his populist allies, notably the League, whose leader, Matteo Salvini, promised to deport the 600,000 boat migrants who had arrived in Italy over the past four years.

Some pollsters said the League could overtake Berlsuconi’s Forza Italia party yesterday.

Populist parties had been on the rise in Europe since the 2008 financial crisis, but mainstream parties in Italy found it hard to contain voter anger, with the economy still six per cent smaller than a decade ago and unemployme­nt stuck at about 11 per cent.

The 5-Star Movement, led by Luigi Di Maio, 31, had been successful at tapping into the disaffecti­on in the underdevel­oped south and promised a monthly universal wage of up to 780 euros (RM3,750) for the poor.

“I think 5-Star will win... but I’m also worried that there won’t be a winner. Both scenarios look catastroph­ic,” said voter Giuseppe Ottaviani.

Economists said, like many party pledges, Italy could ill-afford the universal wage. But many of the more wild campaign promises were likely to fall by the wayside if there was a hung Parliament and a power-sharing accord had to be hammered out.

Although all party leaders had ruled out any post-election alliances with rivals, Italy had a long history of finding a way out of intractabl­e political stalemate.

But if no one clinches clear victory in the polls, it might take weeks before a government deal was reached.

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 ?? REUTERS PIC ?? Forza Italia party leader and former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi arriving to cast his vote in Milan, Italy, yesterday.
REUTERS PIC Forza Italia party leader and former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi arriving to cast his vote in Milan, Italy, yesterday.

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