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Millions select Italian left's nominee for prime minister

26 november 2012, 16:29
0
Milllions of Italian centre-left voters cast their ballots on Sunday to select a nominee for prime minister ahead of a general election next year as the country suffers through a painful recession, AFP reports.

An exit poll by the Piepoli Institute showed Democratic Party leader Pier Luigi Bersani ahead of his rival Matteo Renzi but falling short of a majority, with 44 percent. That would mean there would have to be a run-off on December 2.

The exit poll showed Renzi, the mayor of Florence, at 36 percent.

The winner of the nomination will be one of the favourites to replace Mario Monti as Italy's next prime minister, since all the most recent polls show the main centre-left Democratic Party coming first in the general election.

Organisers of the exit poll said it had a wide margin of error.

Official results are expected in the next few hours, with the turnout expected to reach more than three million people, which has surprised many observers.

The main drama is between Bersani, 61, a cigar-chomping former communist with a liberal economic orientation, and rising star Renzi, who at just 37 is a new face in Italian politics who is inspired by US President Barack Obama.

The primary is being held at a time of deep economic crisis and political uncertainty in Italy, with a series of corruption scandals within the main parties sparking disgust with traditional leaders and voter apathy.

Both men have said they will follow the broad course of reforms set by unelected technocrat prime minister Monti but will seek to curb some of the more unpopular austerity measures he has advocated and do more to boost growth.

"We have to show the rest of the world that we don't just have Monti," Bersani, a former economic development minister, said last week.

"People want to take part, they want to have a politics that is in touch with the streets, with the squares, that returns hope to the country," he said.

Monti, a former European commissioner, took over from Silvio Berlusconi a year ago as Italy struggled with the eurozone crisis. While his cuts have angered many, he is seen as having saved Italy from a Greek-style collapse.

Finance Minister Vittorio Grilli said the economy would start to recover halfway through next year but warned that Italy was not yet in the clear.

"Even if the emergency phase was over, which it isn't, the markets wouldn't stop being on edge without the certainty that whoever is to govern in the future will continue on the path of rigour," he told La Stampa.

There were long queues outside the more than 9,000 polling stations set up across Italy and in 19 other countries with large Italian communities.

The vote in some areas was like a village fete -- with marquees and buffets set up by some of the around 100,000 volunteers mobilised to help out.

The three other candidates were Nichi Vendola, governor of the Apulia region, Antonio Tabacci, a former Christian-Democrat, and Laura Puppato, a regional lawmaker who has called for a "green economy". She was the only woman to run.

The exit poll gave them 16 percent, 1 percent and 3 percent respectively.

An earlier poll by the Cise/Luiss study centre on Thursday showed Bersani could win 48.2 percent -- more than 10 points ahead of Renzi with 37.6 percent, while Vendola was seen trailing with 9.9 percent.

However, it also said that if Renzi won the nomination, a leftist coalition led by him could come out on top. It said that while Bersani represented "the soul of the identity of the left" Renzi had "more transversal appeal".

"If we win on Sunday, the Democrats have more of a chance of winning" at the general election, said Renzi, who has conducted a US-style campaign on a camper van around Italy under the slogan: "Let's Change Italy Now!"

Berlusconi's once-dominant People of Freedom Party (PDL), now bitterly divided by infighting, will hold its own primary on December 16 to elect a centre-right candidate for the race for the premiership.

Berlusconi, the scandal-ridden three-time prime minister, has yet to make his own intentions clear.

"We'll see. I'm thinking it over," Berlusconi, 76, told reporters on Saturday when asked if he intended to return to politics.

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