Outcome of Italy election deeply uncertain

Fri Feb 22, 2013 5:40pm EST
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By Steve Scherer and Barry Moody

ROME (Reuters) - Italy's election campaign drew to a close on Friday with the weak performance of outgoing premier Mario Monti key to a deeply uncertain and potentially unstable result.

Political leaders were holding their final rallies before a campaigning ban ahead of two days of voting on Sunday and Monday, and analysts said the result was too close to call.

Grabbing headlines and tapping into a national mood of disillusion with politicians and economic austerity, comedian turned wildcard campaigner Beppe Grillo whipped up a crowd of half a million in Rome, telling established parties: "Get out!"

"This vote is not at all certain," said one pollster who asked not to be named because of a ban on the publication of opinion surveys in the fortnight before voting. "One percentage point either way could lead to chaos or a clear winner."

Analysts are divided over whether center-left leader Pier Luigi Bersani, who was five points ahead two weeks ago, will be able to form a stable majority capable of pursuing the economic reforms that an uncompetitive Italy needs to exit recession.

Bersani is thought now to be just a few points ahead of center-right leader Silvio Berlusconi but is still seen with a good chance of the winner's bonus of parliamentary seats that will give him comfortable control of the lower house.

However, the election will revolve around the much more complex Senate race, where winners' bonus seats are awarded on a region-by-region basis.

The center-left and center-right are close to a draw in several battleground regions, including industrial powerhouse Lombardy, which returns the most senators. Berlusconi formed an alliance with the federalist Northern League because of the importance of populous northern regions in the Senate race.   Continued...

Five Star Movement leader and comedian Beppe Grillo speaks during a rally in Rome February 22, 2013. REUTERS/Max Rossi