Final polls show Italy’s centre-left needs Monti
Too late for Berlusconi to catch up - experts
The centre-left is on course to win Italy’s election despite a remarkable surge by Silvio Berlusconi, but it is likely to have to form a governing coalition with outgoing Premier Mario Monti, final polls before the February 24-25 vote showed yesterday.
Most polls published before a pre-vote blackout showed Pier Luigi Bersani’s centre-left still five or more points ahead, despite a scandal over a Tuscan bank with which it has links and a continuing fight-back by former Prime Minister Berlusconi.
An average of polls calculated by Reuters showed Bersani on 34.7 per cent, 5.7 points ahead of Berlusconi. The anti-establishment 5-Star Movement of comedian Beppe Grillo was running third on 16 per cent, with Monti’s centrists trailing on 13.6 per cent.
While this lead is expected to give Bersani a clear majority in the lower house, the situation in the Senate is much more uncertain and most pollsters believe the centre-left will need to seek an ally to govern, with Monti by far the most likely.
Senate seats are awarded by region, with a big bonus for winners. In the key battlegrounds of Sicily and Lombardy there was fewer than a three-point difference between the centre-left and centre-right, barely above the margin of error, ISPO pollsters said in a survey for Corriere della Sera newspaper.
SWG pollsters also showed a Senate projection in which Bersani would win 146 seats, 12 short of a majority, with Monti taking 21. Such a result is considered almost certain to push Bersani into the arms of Monti, despite the former European Commissioner’s lack of traction in the campaign.
The Senate has equal powers to the Chamber of Deputies.
Berlusconi’s target is to take enough seats to make a Bersani government unstable.
The billionaire media magnate has sharply eroded the centre-left’s lead in the last month, promising sweeping tax cuts, while a scandal over murky derivatives deals at Monte dei Paschi bank has hurt Bersani’s Democratic Party because of its links with the Tuscan lender.
After diving into the campaign in December, with his party close to disintegration and behind Grillo on around 15 per cent, Berlusconi has gained around five points for his People of Freedom (PDL) group with a blitz of television appearances that have eclipsed the uncharismatic figures of Monti and Bersani.
But most experts believe it is too late for him to catch up after a shorter than usual election campaign, and many Italians are sceptical of his promises to pay back a hated housing tax and create four million new jobs.
The Roman Catholic Church, once a supporter of Berlusconi, has abandoned him after a string of scandals, instead backing the devout Monti.