Italians were voting for a second day yesterday in a national election that will determine if they are prepared to stay the course of painful economic reform or send a message of discontinuity to the political class that led the eurozone’s third-largest country to the brink of disaster by rallying around a protest party.
Polls were to close at 3pm, ending two days of voting in an election being closely watched by Italy’s eurozone partners as well as international investors trying to decide if they consider the third-largest economy in the eurozone a good bet.
Turnout was 55 percent when polls closed on Sunday night, 7 percentage points below the turnout rate in the last national election in 2008. Experts say a low turnout will hurt the mainstream parties; usually about 80 percent of the 50 million eligible voters go to the polls.
Leading the electoral field is Pier Luigi Bersani, a former communist who drafted liberalization reforms under previous center-left governments and supported tough measures pushed by Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti.
Former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, who was forced from office in November 2011 by the debt crisis, has sought to close the gap by promising constituents to restore an unpopular tax — a tactic that brought him within a hair’s breadth of winning the 2006 election.
Monti, respected abroad for his measures that helped stave off Italy’s debt crisis, has widely been blamed for financial suffering caused by austerity cuts and was trailing in fourth place.
The great unknown is comic-turned-political agitator Beppe Grillo, whose protest movement against the entrenched political class has gained in strength following a series of corporate scandals that only seemed to confirm the worst about Italy’s establishment. If his self-styled political “tsunami,” which was polling third, sweeps into parliament with a big chunk of seats, Italy could be in store for a prolonged period of political confusion that would spook the markets.
Bersani’s lead in opinion polls, about 33 percent to Berlusconi’s 26, before a blackout on voter sentiment took effect 15 days ago would give him enough to control the lower house thanks to a widely contested electoral law that awards a premium to the leading party.
Meanwhile, three topless feminists lunged at Berlusconi as he arrived at a polling station in Milan to vote on Sunday, a reporter at the scene said.
The young women from the Ukrainian women’s power group Femen had the slogan “Basta Silvio” (“Enough With Silvio”) scrawled on their backs and fronts.
They were quickly detained by police and dragged away screaming in a chaotic scene as ordinary people queued to vote at the school.
“Three Femen sextremists carried out an attack on the idiot Berlusconi just as he was preparing to vote,” the group said on its Web site.
“Italy, don’t vote for someone who should be in prison,” the group said.
Berlusconi said the action was “an exaggeration,” adding: “Whoever thinks intelligently and with their brain can vote only for one side.”
The feminists carried journalistic accreditations and broke through a line of journalists outside the polling station, jumping over some tables toward Berlusconi, but did not reach him.