Mon, Mar 05, 2018 - Page 5 News List

Italians vote in closely watched polls

POLLING WOES:Some voters said the ballots were too confusing, while polling stations in Palermo did not open on time because the ballots had to be reprinted

AP, ROME

A man and a woman yesterday take a selfie outside a polling station in Rome, Italy.

Photo: AP / Giuseppe Lami / ANSA

Italians voted yesterday in one of the most uncertain elections in years and one that could determine if Italy will succumb to the populist, euroskeptic and far-right sentiment that has swept through Europe.

The campaign was marked by the prime-time airing of neofascist rhetoric and anti-migrant violence that culminated in a shooting spree last month against six Africans.

While the center-right coalition that capitalized on the anti-migrant sentiment led the polls, analysts predict the likeliest outcome is a hung parliament.

That would necessitate days and weeks of back-room haggling and horse trading to come up with a coalition government that can win confidence votes in parliament. Just which parties coalesce from among the three main blocs — the center-right coalition, center-left coalition and the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement — will determine Italy’s course.

“Basically it is very likely that, at the end of the day, none of these three groups will have an absolute majority and they will be forced to start talking to each other and see how to put together a coalition government,” said Franco Pavoncello, dean of the John Cabot University in Rome.

More than 46 million Italians were eligible to vote from 7am to 11pm, including Italians abroad who already mailed in ballots. Exit polls were expected after polls closed, projections sometime thereafter and consolidated results later today.

Some polling stations remained closed in Palermo hours into election day because the wrong ballots were delivered and 200,000 new ones had to be reprinted overnight.

Italian Senate President Pietro Grasso said that such delays were “unacceptable” and that he hoped they would not discourage turnout.

In Rome, some early voters said the ballots were confusing and the process to cast them — which for the first time requires an anti-fraud check by polling authorities — too time consuming.

“You feel as if you have gone there prepared but it is not that clear,” said Sister Vincenza as she cast her ballot on Rome’s Aventine hill before heading to Mass.

With unemployment at 10.8 percent and economic growth in the eurozone’s third-largest economy lagging the average, many Italians have all but given up hope for change. Polls indicated a third had not decided or were not even sure they would vote.

“The situation is pretty bad,” said Paolo Mercorillo from Ragusa, Sicily, who said he had decided not to even bother casting a ballot. “There aren’t candidates who are valid enough.”

The 5-Star Movement hoped to capitalize on such disgust, particularly among Italy’s young, and polls indicated the grassroots movement launched in 2009 by comic Beppe Grillo would be the largest vote-getter among any single party.

However, the 5-Stars were not expected to win enough to govern on their own, and they have sworn off forming coalitions. However, the movement’s leader, Luigi Di Maio, has recently suggested he would be open to talking with potential allies.

Analysts predict the only coalition with a shot of reaching an absolute majority is the center-right coalition anchored by former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party. The coalition includes the anti-migrant League and the nationalistic, neofascist-rooted Brothers of Italy party.

Berlusconi, 81, may not run for office because of a tax fraud conviction, but he has tapped European Parliament President Antonio Tajani, considered a pro-European moderate, as his pick if the center-right is asked to form a government.

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