November 27, 2020

Italian election results point to political paralysis

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Italian electionUnderdog party capitalizes on wave of voter disgust with the ruling political class

Partial results from Italy’s election suggest the houses of parliament may split between left and right, causing new anxiety in the eurozone.

Projections suggest Pier Luigi Bersani’s centre-left bloc has a narrow lead in the lower house while Silvio Berlusconi’s centre-right is ahead in the powerful Senate.

A protest movement led by comedian Beppe Grillo surged into third place.

The election comes amid a deep recession and tough austerity measures.

It marks a return to full-blown democracy for Italians after the technocratic government of Mario Monti whose attempts to reduce spending caused widespread public resentment.

_66069148_017335705-1Milan’s stock market soared nearly 4% when exit polls suggested a clear Bersani victory – but lost nearly all of its gains when projections began to show Mr Berlusconi winning a sizeable vote. Italy’s 10-year borrowing cost fell but then rose again to close slightly higher at 4.49%.

It was market pressure, with a borrowing cost of well over 6%, that forced Mr Berlusconi to resign as prime minister in late 2011.

Correspondents say Italy’s EU partners and the financial markets want to see a stable outcome to the election, with a commitment to reform and debt-reduction.

The BBC’s Europe editor, Gavin Hewitt, says Brussels and Berlin would like to see Mr Bersani form a governing coalition with Mr Monti.

They fear that an uncertain outcome could lead to Greek-style paralysis in the eurozone’s third largest economy, he says.

The deputy head of Mr Bersani’s Democratic Party sought to downplay speculation about a repeat election after comments from another party official.

With returns from 75% of districts processed, Mr Bersani’s centre-left bloc had won 30.3% of the vote for the lower house (Chamber of Deputies) to 28.5% for Mr Berlusconi’s bloc.

Mr Grillo’s Five Star Movement had 25.5% and the centrist list led by Mario Monti 10.6%.

Mr Bersani was also projected initially to win a majority in the Senate, where seats are decided region by region. However, later projections suggested Mr Berlusconi’s bloc was ahead in the key swing regions.

Control of both the lower and upper houses of parliament is needed in order to govern.

Mr Bersani has pledged to continue with Mr Monti’s reforms but suggests current European policy needs to do more to promote growth and jobs.

The election was called two months ahead of schedule, after Mr Berlusconi’s party withdrew its support for Mr Monti’s government.

Enrico Letta, Mr Bersani’s deputy, said the centre-left bloc should win the vote in the lower house and would have the responsibility for trying to form a new government.

Speaking after the party’s economics spokesman, Stefano Fassina, publicly suggested a new election would have to be called in order to form a stable government, Mr Letta said: “Returning to the vote immediately does not seem today seem the best option to follow.”

At party headquarters in Rome, one candidate, Alessandra Moretti, told AFP news agency the results gave “the impression of a country torn apart”.

Accepting that Five Star had “succeeded where traditional politics has failed”, she hinted at possible collaboration with Mr Grillo’s party – “a relationship that could give us an agreement on concrete laws”.

Mr Monti said in a message on Twitter he was “satisfied” with his bloc’s showing. While the mood was sombre at campaign headquarters, one candidate, Mario Giro, suggested the former prime minister could yet play a central role.

“If the current results are confirmed, we’ll have two big coalitions that will have to work together,” he told AFP. “Monti would be a pivot between the two. He’ll be central.”

Meanwhile, Mr Grillo’s camp played down the prospect of co-operation with Mr Berlusconi.

“Dialogue with Berlusconi?” candidate Alessandro Di Battista told AP news agency at Five Star headquarters in Rome. “It is very difficult to imagine that Berlusconi would propose useful ideas.”

In Mr Grillo’s home city, there was shock and delight among Five Star candidates, who celebrated the party’s huge success at a bar, AFP reports.

“This is a moment when you feel a bit weird because we are ordinary citizens, we don’t have political experience,” Cristina De Pietro said. “We have a lot to learn.”

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