Govt prods citizens to vote as Italy holds elections

February 24, 2013 - 3:28:59 am

Ballots being readied in a polling station in Rome, yesterday. 

ROME: Italy pressed citizens to get out and vote in one of the most closely watched elections in years today and tomorrow, with financial markets on edge at the prospect of a political stalemate that could reignite the euro zone debt crisis.

A campaigning ban kicked in at midnight on Friday after leaders held final rallies. Comedian-turned-politician Beppe Grillo stole the spotlight in Rome by attracting an estimated half a million people to hear his tirades against corrupt politicians and bankers.

The Interior Ministry urged some 47 million eligible voters to head to the polls and said it had made preparations for bad weather, including snow in some regions, to ensure that everyone could have the chance to cast their ballot. “Elections are a fundamental moment for a democracy and we want all our citizens to experience them in the best way possible,” Interior Minister Anna Maria Cancellieri said in a video posted on the ministry’s website.

A survey released on Tuesday said about 28 percent of Italians had yet to decide who to vote for, or were considering not voting at all. It showed about 5 million people were likely to make up their mind in the final days.

Final polls published two weeks ago showed centre-left leader Pier Luigi Bersani with a five-point lead, but analysts disagree about whether he will be able to form a stable majority that can push through the economic reforms Italy needs to exit recession.

Bersani is now thought to be just a few points ahead of centre-right leader Silvio Berlusconi, the former prime minister who has promised tax refunds and staged a media blitz.

The success of Grillo’s “Tsunami Tour” has added to the uncertainty. Huge crowds have turned out to hear him rail against corruption and austerity, underlining the extent of popular rage against traditional parties and the capacity for his 5-Star Movement to shake up the elections.

“Grillo is saying the things that all ordinary Italians are thinking, he is giving us hope,” said 41-year-old Luca Pennisi, who makes pastries for a cafe in the capital where several customers were still unsure who to vote for.