Bersani, Berlusconi, Monti make final vote pitches
Outcome uncertain, winner may not have working majority22 February, 19:15
Pier Luigi Bersani's centre-left coalition is favourite to win, as it was some five points ahead before a pre-election poll blackout kicked in earlier this month.
But many experts say there is a risk that Bersani's margin of victory will not give him a working majority in parliament.
Silvio Berlusconi's centre-right alliance was second after a media blitz by the ex-premier enabled it to narrow a gap that was in double figures at the start of the campaign. One of the reasons for the uncertainty is that comedian Beppe Grillo's anti-establishment Five Star Movement is expected to win lots of seats in parliament.
It was third in the polls before the blackout started, with around 15% of people intending to vote for it after the foul-mouthed Grillo took advantage of a wave a public disaffection following several corruption scandals that have hit parties on various parts of the political spectrum.
Outgoing Premier Mario Monti, who took the helm of an emergency government of unelected technocrats in November 2011 when Berlusconi resigned as premier with Italy's debt crisis threatening to spiral out of control, was fourth with around 13% inclined to opt for his reform platform backed by centrist parties.
Bersani said his record as industry minister in Romano Prodi's centre-left government between 2006 and 2008, when he was the architect of a series of reforms to liberalise various sectors of the economy, showed he has the mettle to make the tough decisions Italy needs.
"I think I'm a reformist who is tempered in style, but quite radical in my choices," Bersani told ANSA on Friday. "The only liberal things done in this country were done by me," he added on state broadcaster Rai. Bersani, who is also the chief of the main centre-left Democratic Party (PD), also expressed confidence that he would win outright without needing to form a post-election pact with Monti to have a majority in parliament.
Monti has said he could not work with the PD's coalition partner, the left-wing SEL.
Puglia governor Nichi Vendola, SEL's leader, had said the feeling is mutual.
Berlusconi continued with his aggressive style, although he was unable to attend his People of Freedom (PdL) party's final election rally in Naples due to a bout of conjunctivitis.
The three-time Italian premier described the PD as "cruel and inhuman" and said party members envied "those who make sacrifices and take risks in business to make themselves prosperous". He also reiterated his claim that voting for Monti or Bersani was the same thing as they would end up allied in parliament - even though this has been denied. Berlusconi said Monti and Bersani were bound by their "love of power and hostility for the public". Berlusconi has said he will be economy minister if the centre right wins and the government will be led by the secretary of his People of Freedom (PdL) party, Angelino Alfano.
Monti said that if he was elected he would continue with the reforms of the economy and labour market passed by his government in order to combat chronic youth unemployment and help women find work. The former European commissioner said Friday that he had prepared a "shock therapy package" that featured tax cuts for companies that hire people on permanent full-time contracts, payroll-tax exemption for apprenticeships and more day-care centres for working parents.
Grillo, who wants Italy to hold a referendum over whether it should keep having the euro as its currency, wound up his 'Tsunami' campaign tour with a huge rally at Rome's San Giovanni Square, traditionally a bastion of left-wing protests. The comedian, who snubs TV appearances and uses the Internet and rallies to spread his message, denied Italian journalists back-stage access to the event, although he did give accreditation to foreign media and Sky Italia. "The future Italy will be founded on culture, research and COMMON SENSE! Today is the day in which we will change this country!," Grillo said via Twitter. photo: centre left leader Pier Luigi Bersani.