Italians vote amid wide discontent

(13 Apr 08)

Guy Dinmore in Rome

Italians started voting on Sunday for their 62nd post-war government, with large numbers reported to be undecided or expressing their discontent with the political classes by staying away from polling stations.

Silvio Berlusconi, leader of the opposition centre-right People of Freedom alliance, had been ahead in the last permitted opinion polls two weeks ago but on Sunday one of his newspapers warned supporters of the danger of a “draw” with Walter Veltroni’s centre-left Democratic party.

A front-page commentary in Italy’s main newspaper, Corriere Della Serra, urged the two parties to work together after the elections to get Italy out of its political and economic crisis. Mr Berlusconi, bidding to become prime minister for the third time with a campaign based on tax cuts, has ruled out a German-style grand coalition.

An already complicated voting system was made more confusing with different arrangements used on ballot sheets for local and national elections. For the first time cell phones were banned from voting booths. Authorities, on the alert against vote-rigging, plan to announce results on Monday night after a second day of voting.

The next government may take several weeks to form. Meanwhile Alitalia, the national flag carrier, risks going into bankruptcy. The outgoing centre-left government, which owns 49.9 per cent of Alitalia, was reportedly warned by aviation authorities that the airline could only go on for a few weeks unless trade unions accepted a takeover by Air France-KLM.

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