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Spotlight: Italian politicians hit campaign trail ahead of 2018 election

Xinhua,December 31, 2017 Adjust font size:

by Stefania Fumo

ROME, Dec. 30 (Xinhua) -- Italy's political parties were on the campaign trail Saturday ahead of the next general election, to be held on March 4, 2018.

The countdown officially began on Dec. 28 when President Sergio Mattarella dissolved parliament, paving the way for what some international media -- including Bloomberg News, the Financial Times and the New York Times -- are calling the next major testing ground for the (European Union) EU after Brexit.

The vote will be held under Italy's brand-new electoral law, whose mix of a one-third majority first-past-the-post system with a two-thirds proportional system favors coalitions over single parties.

This may spell trouble for the populist, euro-skeptic Five-Star Movement, which is currently Italy's leading force and which has long prided itself on its refusal to enter into alliances with other parties, which it says are all corrupt.

On Saturday, Five Star candidate Luigi di Maio announced the movement's new rules for the campaign, which include a fine of 100,000 euros (about 120,000 U.S. dollars) for any Five Star MPs who decide to abandon ship to join a different party after they get elected.

"We must protect ourselves from would-be profiteers," Di Maio told Sky TG24 private broadcaster in televised comments.

Also in the running is a coalition made up of former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi's liberal, conservative Forza Italia party plus the rightwing anti-immigrant Northern League and the far-right Brothers of Italy party.

That coalition recently won regional elections in Sicily, but its staying power is unclear because of fundamental differences of opinion: Forza Italia is pro-EU, while the other two parties are euroskeptic.

As well, Berlusconi has been barred from public office due to a tax fraud conviction, and the centre-right coalition is still divided over who should be their candidate for prime minister.

Also on Saturday, ex-PM Matteo Renzi, leader of the ruling center-left Democratic Party, urged voters to turn out to prevent the Five Stars and Berlusconi's coalition from heading up the next government.

Renzi called the Five Stars "fake gurus and professional haters", and reminded voters that Berlusconi was forced to resign in 2011 because his government had driven the nation almost into bankruptcy during the European sovereign debt crisis.

He also pointed to the successes of the past five years of Democratic Party administration, including the economic recovery and the creation of one million jobs thanks to government reforms.

He also warned that electoral promises made by both Berlusconi and the Five Stars are unrealistic, would add billions of euros to Italy's public debt and drive the country's fragile economy back into recession.

Berlusconi has promised to raise minimum monthly pensions to 1,000 euros for everyone and to impose a flat tax of 20 percent.

The Five Stars call for basic income of 780 euros a month, which Renzi argued would come with a price tag of 84 billion euros.

Renzi, however, did not mention immigration, a hot-button issue with voters.

The Democratic Party is in favor of letting in people fleeing war and destitution in Africa and the Middle East, while the Five Stars and Berlusconi's center-right alliance have promised to crack down on immigration.

Another wild card is voter disaffection, with polls suggesting many people might prefer not to vote at all and politicians of every stripe trying to woo the undecided or just plain disillusioned.

According to December polls by the Demopolis Institute, the Five Stars were leading at 29 percent support, followed by the Democratic Party at 25 percent, Forza Italia at 15 percent and the League at 14 percent.

If a general election were held now, about 62 percent of voters would turn out, according to Demopolis.

Meanwhile, Italy awaits President Sergio Mattarella's traditional end-of-year speech to the nation, in which he is expected to urge citizens to exercise their right to vote and to exhort politicians to behave responsibly for the good of the nation. Enditem