- Special Pages
A supporter of the Party of Freedom arrives to take part in a campaign meeting of leader Silvio Berlusconi in Naples, yesterday.
ROME: Italy held its final day of campaigning yesterday ahead of crucial elections, as international investors warned an unclear outcome could shake the economy and set off shockwaves throughout Europe.
Italians will cast their ballots tomorrow and on Monday as they grapple with the longest recession in two decades and austerity cuts that have caused deep resentment in the eurozone’s third economy.
The most likely outcome is a centre-left government led by Democratic Party leader Pier Luigi Bersani, a former communist with a down-to-earth manner who now espouses broadly pro-market economic views.
“I am very, very confident of victory,” Bersani said in one of his last interviews before Saturday, when candidates are not allowed to campaign.
But the result is by no means certain and whether Bersani can form a stable coalition with a majority in both houses of parliament is in serious doubt, putting the financial markets on edge.
Outgoing premier Mario Monti wrapped up his campaign in Florence, accusing the left of being “a prisoner in its ideological straitjacket” and condemning Berlusconi’s “vulgarity” against women. With everything at stake, the campaign has been remarkably underwhelming, with few rallies and a lot of back-and-forth in television interviews with little or no hard detail on electoral promises.
A case in point was Silvio Berlusconi’s vow to refund Italians an unpopular property tax levied by Prime Minister Mario Monti in an official-looking letter that prompted some people to queue up at post offices to claim their money straight away.
European capitals will be watching closely as a return to Italy’s years of free-wheeling public finances could spell disaster for the eurozone.
“We believe that a risk exists that after the February 24-25 elections there may be a loss of momentum on important reforms to improve Italian growth prospects,” Standard & Poor’s ratings agency said in a report this week.
London-based economic research group Capital Economics warned that “a hung parliament might plunge Italy and the eurozone back into crisis”.
Polls open at 0700 GMT on Sunday and close at 1900 GMT. A second day of voting on Monday begins at 0600 GMT and ends at 1400 GMT, after which preliminary results will come out late on Monday.AFP