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Italians cast ballots on final voting day

Result of unpredictable four-way race crucial to European financial markets amid long and deep recession in key economy.
Last Modified: 25 Feb 2013 18:17

Italians are heading to polling stations for the second and final day of voting in one of the country's most important elections in recent history.

Voters began casting their ballots on Monday at 7am (06:00 GMT). Poll stations close at 3pm, after which exit polls are due to be published. 

Four candidates are taking part in the first general election since former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, one of those standing, resigned in November 2011 after becoming embroiled in a series of scandals and escalating the country's debt crisis.

Outgoing Prime Minister Mario Monti, a former European commissioner, will also compete with the popular wildcard candidate Beppe Grillo, a comedian-turned-politican who leads the protest Five Star Movement party and Pier Luigi Bersani, the centre-left leader of the Democratic Party who led the last opinion polls.

Al Jazeera's Barbara Serra reporting from Rome, said: "This election is really open with all possibilities still on the table."

Unpredictable outcome

Financial markets are braced for an outcome, which has so far been unpredictable, that could threaten the eurozone with Italy suffering its longest recession in 20 years.

"The election is crucial not just for Italy, but for th whole of the eurozone's stability" she said.Serra said Italy's economic woes include huge public debt, high interest on that debt and a lack of growth which currently stands at levels similar to Haiti and Zimbabwe.

Italy is the eurozone's third largest economy, and its public debt, second only to Greece, is sky high at 120 percent of GDP.

"I don't want us to end up like Greece," said Alessandro, a 63-year-old manager, as he voted in Milan.

Daniele, 47, a disgruntled taxi driver, said: "The whole political system is rotten. This will be a wake-up call."

Voter dissilusion

Interior Ministry figures put turnout by Sunday evening at 44 percent, 2.5 percentage points less than in the last national elections in 2008.

Usually some 80 percent of the 47 million eligible voters go to the polls, but amid anger driven by recent austerity measures and disillusion with scandals and corruption among mainstream politicians, many are expected to stay away altogether or cast a vote for the anti-establishment candidate Grillo.

It is likely that voters will "punish politicans for years of instability at the ballot box," said our correspondent, Serra.

Grillo built up suspense over when he would come out and vote on Sunday and was expected to do so on Monday, while Berlusconi was mobbed by three topless feminists in a protest as he arrived to cast his ballot on Sunday.

If a coalition is decided upon after voting ends, Italians might have to wait for the new government to be formed.

"Forming coalitions does tend to take a long time in Italy, so it may be that we have a Pope before we have a prime minister."

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