Italy's centre-left Democratic Party chief Pier Luigi Bersani is set for a run-off vote on Sunday against Florence Mayor Matteo Renzi (pictured) after winning 44.3 percent support to Renzi's 36.3 percent, early results showed Monday.
Italian centre-left Democratic Party chief Pier Luigi Bersani is set for a run-off vote next week against young pretender Matteo Renzi, after millions of supporters chose their nominee for next year's general election.
With 40 percent of the votes counted from Sunday's balloting, Bersani was in front with 44.3 percent support, followed by Florence mayor Renzi with 36.3 percent, the organising committee said.
More than four million supporters took part in the vote which will now head for a second round run-off on Sunday.
A general election is expected in April 2013 with the winner of the centre-left nomination one of the favourites to replace Mario Monti as Italy's next prime minister.
All the most recent polls show the Democratic Party coming first in the general election.
Observers were surprised by the large turnout for the primaries and many polling stations were overwhelmed, with large queues forming outside.
More and more Italians are feeling the pain of a recession that began in the second half of last year and is forecast to continue into next year.
The main drama is between 61-year-old Bersani, a cigar-chomping former communist with a liberal economic orientation, and rising star Renzi, who at just 37 is a new face in politics, inspired by US President Barack Obama.
The primary is being held at a time of deep economic crisis and political uncertainty in Italy, with a series of corruption scandals within the main parties sparking voter apathy and disgust with traditional leaders.
Both men have said they will follow the broad course of reforms set by unelected technocrat prime minister Monti, but will seek to curb some of the more unpopular austerity measures he has advocated and do more to boost growth.
"We have to show the rest of the world that we don't just have Monti," Bersani, a former economic development minister, said last week.
"People want to take part, they want to have a politics that is in touch with the streets, with the squares, that returns hope to the country," he said.
Monti, a former European commissioner, took over from Silvio Berlusconi a year ago as Italy struggled with the eurozone crisis. While his cuts have angered many, he is seen as having saved Italy from a Greek-style collapse.
Finance Minister Vittorio Grilli said the economy would start to recover halfway through next year but warned that Italy was not yet in the clear.
"Even if the emergency phase was over, which it isn't, the markets wouldn't stop being on edge without the certainty that whoever is to govern in the future will continue on the path of rigour," he told La Stampa.
There were long queues outside the more than 9,000 polling stations set up across Italy and in 19 other countries with large Italian communities.
The three other candidates were Nichi Vendola, the leftist governor of the Apulia region, Antonio Tabacci, a former Christian-Democrat, and Laura Puppato, an environmentalist regional lawmaker and the only woman to run.
According to the partial results Vendola was standing in third place with 15.1 percent of the votes cast, followed by Puppato on 2.9 percent and Tabacci on just 1.2 percent.
Bersani and Renzi have very different styles and generational appeal.
A report by the Cise-Luiss study centre ahead of the primary said that while Bersani represented "the soul of the identity of the left" Renzi had "more transversal appeal" and could build a broader centre-left coalition.
Renzi went to the US Democratic National Convention that nominated Obama before beginning his own campaign and then set off in a camper van across Italy holding US-style rallies with the slogan: "Let's Change Italy Now!"
Meanwhile Berlusconi's once-dominant People of Freedom Party (PDL), now bitterly divided by infighting, will hold its own primary on December 16 to elect a centre-right candidate for the race for the premiership.
Berlusconi, the scandal-ridden three-time prime minister, has yet to make his own intentions clear.
"We'll see. I'm thinking it over," Berlusconi, 76, told reporters on Saturday when asked if he intended to return to politics.
Date created : 2012-11-26