Centre-left favoured as Italy holds landmark election
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Italy today holds a second day of voting in a critical election for the future of the eurozone in which the centre-left Democratic Party is expected to win but fall short of a governing majority.
A new protest party led by former comedian Beppe Grillo, who is calling for a referendum on the euro, is also set to make major gains as Italians endure their longest recession in two decades and the heavy burden of austerity cuts.
Polling stations open at 0600 GMT (11:30 IST) and close at 1400 GMT (19:30 IST), after which exit polls and early official results are expected later today and into tomorrow.
Democratic Party leader Pier Luigi Bersani has said he is the best man to help promote a growth agenda for Europe and "turn the page" after years of Silvio Berlusconi, who polls indicate could come second in the vote.
Billionaire and three-time prime minister Berlusconi haswaged a populist campaign, blaming Germany for Italy's economic woes and promising to refund an unpopular propertytax to Italians -- out of his own pocket if needed.
European capitals are watching closely for any signs offresh political instability in the third economy that could send shockwaves through the euro area or a return to the bad old days of free-wheeling public finances.
Bersani has said he will abide by the budget discipline enforced by outgoing prime minister Mario Monti, a former European commissioner roped in after Berlusconi's ouster in 2011 who has done much to reassure financial markets.
But the former communist turned liberal economic reformer Bersani will face pressure from trade unions and many ordinary Italians who have seen unemployment rise to record highs and the economy spiral downwards.
"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 isrotten. This will be a wake-up call."The down-to-earth Bersani, 61, the son of a car mechanicfrom northern Italy, has struggled to overcome his image as a party apparatchik and has surrounded himself with a youth fulteam with many women in the ranks.