Italy votes in uncertain poll stalked by populism

ROME: Italy went to the polls on Sunday in one of the country’s most uncertain elections ever with far-right and populist parties expected to make major gains and Silvio Berlusconi set to play a leading role as voter turnout heads towards a new low.
Polls opened at 0600 GMT and will close at 2200 GMT, and early figures from the Interior Ministry put nationwide turnout at 19.4 per cent, above the 14.9 per cent from the same point in 2013, when however the country voted over two days.
The numbers are in line with those from the same point of the constitutional reform referendum in December 2016, when overall 65.5 per cent of the nation voted. That would put turnout at the lowest levels for a general election since the World War II.
Confusion and delays blighted voting at some polling stations, with new anti-electoral fraud procedures being blamed for huge queues, while in one polling station in Rome voting had to be suspended due to the discovery of voting cards with the wrong candidates’ names printed on them.
Tensions between far-right and anti-fascist activists have marred a gloomy campaign dominated by fears about immigration and economic malaise.
“This election campaign has been pretty squalid, including from the Democratic Party (PD), who I voted for,” 24-year-old barber Mirko Canali said after casting his vote in Rome.
He said he knew many other young people who, fed up with high youth unemployment, had decided to support the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S).
“They’re *** off, can’t bear (PD leader Matteo) Renzi anymore and maybe they’re right,” Canali said.
Many Italians are cynical about promises made by the many squabbling parties and confused about what the outcome might be.
“I voted for the right and Berlusconi in the past… but this time I’m voting M5S to be against the parties that have always stolen,” said 24-year-old pastry chef Francesco Tagliavini at a polling station in Rome’s Tor Marancia neighbourhood. The result could be a stalemate between the M5S, three-time former prime minister Berlusconi’s right-wing coalition and the ruling centre-left PD. — AFP

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