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Italian election produces stalemate

Berlusconi's party wants voted declared 'too close to call'

26 February, 01:24
Italian election produces stalemate (ANSA) - Rome, February 26 - Italy's general election produced a stalemate, with Pier Luigi Bersani's centre-left alliance failing to win a working majority in parliament and ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi's centre right saying the vote should be declared "too close to call".

Bersani's alliance looked set to come first in the contests for the both the Senate and the Lower House, with almost all the votes counted early on Tuesday, although the difference with respect to the centre right was less than 1% in both cases.

The centre-left was on course to win outright control of the House, thanks to the allocation of bonus seats that goes to the winning alliance.

But neither of the two biggest coalitions was close to the 158 seats needed in the Senate to have a working majority.

"The data released by the interior ministry, as Minister (Anna Maria) Cancellieri recalled a few days ago, are only semi-official figures that are collected with empirical methods that are inevitably subject to a margin of error," said PdL Secretary Angelino Alfano.

"Even if this margin is very low, it is certainly higher than the truly small different between the votes for the top two coalitions for the House.

"In these situations, as happens in the United States, the authority tasked with releasing the semi-official data cannot fail to declare 'too close to call', that it that it is impossible to declare a winner given the tiny difference of votes in percentage and absolute terms".

Although Berlusconi may not have enough seats to form an Italian government for the fourth time, he will see the result as good, as his coalition was trailing by double figures in the polls at the start of the campaign. The centre left had 29.55% of the vote for the House, with ballot papers from less than 100 of the 60,431 polling stations yet to be counted counted, the interior ministry said.

Berlusconi's coalition had 29.18%.

The centre left, which had led in the opinion polls throughout the campaign, was left in a state of shock by the inconclusive result.

It is harder to land a majority in the Senate as bonus seats for the winning alliance are handed out on a regional basis, unlike in the Lower House, where the calculations are done on a national basis.

Furthermore, the make-up of the Senate depends on the outcome of individual separate votes in Italy's regions, so it is possible for a coalition to win the most seats in it even if it loses the popular vote, if it carries some of the bigger regions, such as Lombardy - a key battleground.

But Enrico Letta, a senior member of the main centre-left Democratic Party (PD), said that "the hypothesis of another early election would not be the solution" to the stalemate.

He also suggested that the centre left should be first in line to form the country's next government.

"The coalition that wins the House has the duty to make the first proposals to the head of state," he said.

The only real victors of the vote are the M5S, which was set to claim 25.54% of the votes for the House, making it the biggest individual party. Grillo, whose Internet-based movement had tapped into public disenchantment with the established parties caused in part by a series of corruption scandals, said via Twitter that "honesty will become fashionable" now.

Italian Nobel laureate for literature Dario Fo said the result was an "extraordinary victory" for young people.

"Cleaning up (politics) is winning, and so are young people," added Fo, who spoke during a blogcast hosted on Grillo's website.

Monti, who took the helm of an emergency technocrat government after Berlusconi was forced to resign in November 2011 because Italy's debt crisis was threatening to spiral out of control, registered only 10.56% of the vote in the House.

He had 9.13% in the Senate, only just above the 8%-entry threshold.

Nevertheless, he said he was happy.

"Some people hypothesized a result that was slightly better, but I am very satisfied," said former Eurepean commissioner, who stressed that his Civic Choice movement was established less than two months ago.

He added that his party's share of the vote was all the more important as the election was set to produce an inconclusive result.

"Given the current picture, I think we have acquired even more importance, if that's possible," said Monti.

Voter turnout was down roughly 6% with respect to the last elections in 2008. Around 75.2% of eligible voters cast a ballot in Senate elections, down from 80.77%, while 75.1% cast votes for the House, down from 80.65%. A greater number of Italians are eligible to vote for the House, where the minimum age limit is 18, compared to 25 for the Senate.

Analysts had long suspected a smaller showing at this year's elections citing high voter disaffection with Italian politics following scandals and economic woes - Italy has been in recession since 2011. Pundits have also pointed to bad weather as a factor.