Italy election: Polls set to open in unpredictable contest

Sunday, 2018-03-04 09:27:26
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Italians go to the polls on Sunday (March 4) in a vote that could bring political gridlock after an election campaign marked by anger over the listless economy, high unemployment and immigration.

The competition is among three main forces: the populist Five Star Movement, a center-right coalition led by media mogul and ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi, and the center-left Democratic Party of outgoing Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni.

In terms of opinion polls, Berlusconi's alliance is the front-runner. The media mogul, who is barred from public office until 2019 following a tax fraud conviction, has promised to expel 600,000 migrants from Italy and to introduce a 23 percent flat tax, in a country where the tax burden is over 40 percent for both individuals and businesses.

However his center-right coalition is seen as shaky, mainly because its two rightwing partners are protectionist on trade and anti-European Union, while Berlusconi's Forza Italia party is pro-EU and supports free trade.

Second in opinion polls is the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, which has always spurned entering into alliances with other parties, claiming they are all corrupt. Their program calls for a crackdown on immigration, guaranteed universal income, and defying European Union rules on public spending.

The pro-EU Democratic Party led by former premier Matteo Renzi is polling third. It has ruled over the past five years, pushing through controversial reforms which have proved unpopular on the domestic front, but which have been credited with pulling Italy out of its longest postwar recession and sparking the country's sluggish recovery.

Polling stations will be open from 7.00 a.m. to 11.00 p.m. (0600-2200 GMT), with exit polls due immediately afterwards. The vote is being held under a complex new electoral law which means the final result might not be clear until late Monday (March 5).

Italians are being called on to choose their representatives in the 315-member Senate and the 630-seat Lower House under a new electoral law that is one-third majority and two-thirds proportional -- meaning that no single party or coalition is likely to win enough seats to claim an absolute majority. This means that after Sunday's vote, the different political forces will have to work together to reach a compromise.

This may be a tough call, as most of the major players have taken pains to assure their potential voters that they will never make deals with parties whose views differ radically from their own.

Xinhua, BBC, Reuters