January 6, 2013 / 11:13 AM / in 5 years

Italy's center-left leads in three-way race ahead of February vote

ROME (Reuters) - Italy’s center-left coalition, led by Pier Luigi Bersani, has a comfortable lead less than two months before the election, and outgoing Prime Minister Mario Monti’s bloc may win up to 15 percent, a poll said.

Democratic Party (PD) leader Pier Luigi Bersani celebrates his victory in downtown Rome December 2, 2012. Bersani won a run-off primary election by a huge margin on Sunday to become the Italian centre-left candidate for prime minister in national elections early next year. REUTERS/ Stringer

Monti was appointed in November 2011 to lead an unelected right-left government of experts to save Italy from financial crisis after Silvio Berlusconi quit amid a sex scandal and a crisis that threatened the euro.

The 69-year-old’s centrist formation is now in a three-way race with the center-left coalition, led by the Democratic Party (PD), and the center-right bloc, led by four-time prime minister Berlusconi’s People of Freedom (PDL) party.

The number of voters who say they will vote for Bersani’s bloc in the February 24-25 parliamentary election has stayed about the same, at between 38 and 39 percent, and the PD alone is seen getting 32-33 percent, polling institute ISPO said.

Monti’s bloc has gained to between 14 and 15 percent from just over 10 percent before he entered the race, and Berlusconi has boosted his own party’s share to 17-19 percent from 13-16 percent at the beginning of December, the poll, published on Sunday, said.

If Berlusconi can seal an alliance with the Northern League, his coalition could pull in as much as 28 percent of the vote, ISPO said. The two parties may hold talks later on Sunday.

“The PDL has seen its consensus grow, thanks to the ever more frequent presence of Berlusconi on the television screen,” said Renato Mannheimer, head of ISPO. Most of the PDL increase came from the large pool of undecided and disillusioned voters, Mannheimer said.

The number of undecided voters, or those who had planned to abstain, has fallen below 40 percent, down from almost 50 percent a few weeks ago, Mannheimer said.

Both Berlusconi and Monti have made multiple appearances on TV, in Twitter question-and-answer sessions, and in online video interviews over the past week as they seek to close the gap with the center-left. Monti is scheduled to speak in an interview with SkyTG24 television later on Sunday.

The new “With Monti for Italy” formation presented on Friday would itself win 9 percent, the poll said, and is drawing votes mostly from the center-left and the previously undecided, Mannheimer said.

“Most analysts see it as improbable that, as things now stand, the coalition led by Monti can win more than 20 percent,” he wrote.

But if Berlusconi and the Northern League run together, the complexities of the electoral law might make a post-election alliance with Monti key to giving Bersani a stable majority in the Senate, Mannheimer said.

The anti-establishment 5-Star Movement, led by comic Beppe Grillo, dropped to 13-14 percent from 17-19 percent a month ago, the poll showed.

Reporting by Steve Scherer; Editing by Helen Massy-Beresford

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