Italians queue to vote in election seen ending in political gridlock

Berlusconi’s centre-right party and far-right allies expected to emerge as largest bloc

Northern League party leader Matteo Salvini arrives to casts his vote at a polling station in Milan, Italy. Photograph: Stefano Rellandini/Reuters

Northern League party leader Matteo Salvini arrives to casts his vote at a polling station in Milan, Italy. Photograph: Stefano Rellandini/Reuters

 

Italians waited in long queues at polling booths on Sunday to vote in an election that could bring political gridlock after a campaign marked by anger over the listless economy, high unemployment and immigration.

Pollsters have predicted that former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s centre-right party and his far-right allies will emerge as the largest bloc in parliament but fall short of a majority.

The anti-establishment 5-Star Movement looks set to be the biggest single party, feeding off discontent over entrenched corruption and growing poverty, while the ruling centre-left bloc led by the Democratic Party (PD) is seen in third place.

“I think 5-Star will win ... but I’m also worried that there won’t be a winner. Both scenarios look catastrophic to me,” said Giuseppe Ottaviani, who voted in Amelia, central Italy.

Mr Berlusconi and 5-Star leader Luigi Di Maio both had to wait in queues to cast their votes as new election procedures slowed the process at several polling stations.

At Mr Berlusconi’s voting station in Milan, a Femen activist bared her chest in front of the former premier and shouted, “time’s up” before being hauled away.

Scandals

“She passed so quickly I didn’t get a chance to see her,” said Mr Berlusconi, who has a history of being caught up in sex scandals.

Mr Berlusconi also said he was concerned about the queues.

“In Rome, many stood in line for more than an hour before voting. At 7 pm preliminary figures showed voter turnout above 58 per cent. That was higher than five years ago, when Italians voted over two days, and slightly higher than a 2016 referendum in which the final turnout exceeded 68 per cent. In 2013, final turnout was above 75 per cent.

Heavily indebted Italy is the third-largest economy in the 19-member euro zone and, though investors have been sanguine ahead of the ballot, prolonged political stalemate could reawaken the threat of market instability.

The campaign has marked the return to front-line politics of 81-year-old Berlusconi, who was forced to quit as prime minister in 2011 at the height of a sovereign debt crisis and was widely written off after sex scandals, legal woes and ill health.

A 2013 conviction for tax fraud means he cannot hold public office and he has put forward Antonio Tajani, president of the European Parliament, as his candidate for prime minister.

If as as expected, no one clinches clear victory, it might take weeks before a government deal is reached. – Reuters