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Impasse fears in Italy polls

Rome, Feb. 25 (Reuters): Conflicting early forecasts of the result of Italy’s election today raised the spectre of deadlock in parliament that could paralyse a new government and re-ignite the euro zone crisis.

Officials from both Centre and Left warned that such gridlock could make Italy ungovernable and force new elections.

Opinion polls have long pointed to the Centre-Left of Pier Luigi Bersani winning the lower house, but projections from RAI state television showed Silvio Berlusconi’s Centre-Right in front in the Senate — which has equal lawmaking power — but unable to form a majority.

RAI showed the Centre-Left well short of a majority in the Senate even in coalition with Monti, who was seen slumping to only 19 out of 315 elected Senators against a massive 65 for the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement of comedian Beppe Grillo.

Senate votes are counted before the lower house. The latest projections ran counter to earlier telephone polls that showed the Centre-Left taking a strong lead in the Senate as well as the lower house.

Italian financial markets took fright after rising earlier on hopes for a stable and strong Centre-Left led government, probably backed by outgoing technocrat Premier Mario Monti. Such government is seen by investors as the best guarantee of measures to combat a deep recession and stagnant growth in the euro zone’s third largest economy, which is pivotal to stability in the currency union.

Berlusconi’s declared aim is to win enough power in the Senate to paralyse a Centre-Left administration.

The benchmark spread between Italian 10-year bonds and their German equivalent widened from below 260 basis points to above 280 and the Italian share index lost all its previous gains.

“These projections suggest that we are heading for an ungovernable situation”, said Mario Secchi, a candidate for Monti’s centrist movement.

Stefano Fassina, chief economic official for Bersani’s Centre-Left, said: “The scenario from the projections we have seen so far suggest there will be no stable government and we would need to return to the polls.” The earlier telephone polls on Sky and Rai television after voting ended at 1400 GMT had shown the Centre-Left 5-6 points ahead of the centre right in both Senate and lower house, with Grillo taking third place.

Adding to the confusion, official results from more than 50 per cent of polling stations showed the Centre-Left ahead with 32.7 per cent against 29.5 for the Centre-Right in the Senate race. The partial official count is often not representative because of the order in which votes are counted regionally.

Italy’s electoral laws guarantee a strong majority in the lower house to the party or coalition that wins the biggest share of the national vote.

However the Senate, elected on a region-by-region basis, is more complicated and the result will turn on four key battleground regions. Projections showed Berlusconi winning in three of them: Lombardy, Sicily and Campania.

 
 
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