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‘I won't vote because I can't afford to close shop’
As polls open across crisis-stricken Italy, voters give us their thoughts on an election that could have major repercussions throughout Europe.
Italians began voting Sunday in a general election seen as crucial for the country's efforts to tackle a severe debt crisis and surging unemployment. The first ballots were cast at 8am on Sunday, the first of two days of voting. Polls will close at 3pm on Monday, with the first results expected in the early evening.
A complex electoral system has raised fears of a hung parliament, with no coalition garnering enough seats in the senate to form a stable majority.
FRANCE 24 spoke to voters in Lombardy and Tuscany about their hopes and fears as they prepared to cast their ballots.
'Berlusconi is finished; it's Grillo I'm now worried about'
Antonella Chini, 79, has been making ceramics in her Florentine workshop for 42 years.
“I don't think Berlusconi can win this election. The real threat comes from [anti-establishment candidate] Beppe Grillo.
I have seen many Grillos throughout my life. He embodies a form of defeatism that is typical of many Italians. It is easy to cultivate anger and discontent. To say 'Let's send all the politicians home'. The difficult part is to come up with solutions, and Grillo has none.
I wish Mario Monti hadn't entered politics. He inherited a catastrophic situation and did what had to be done. But he is not a politician and I was very disappointed to see him enter the fray.”
'Most Italians did not understand Monti'
Fulvia, 47, runs a language services company in Gallarate, outside Milan.
“I think Mario Monti is the only candidate who has the right solutions to Italy's problems, but sadly I am part of a tiny minority. Most Italians do not understand or appreciate what Monti has done for the country. He has restored our credibility abroad and silenced [Germany's Angela] Merkel, but they don't care about this. Italians see the taxes and spending cuts, but fail to realise that there was no other choice. The state is like a company -- it needs discipline and balanced budgets. It can't keep spending what it doesn't have.
An alliance between Monti and Bersani's centre-left might work, for a bit. But Bersani's own coalition is too diverse and unstable. What we need is stability. We can't afford to go back to the polls in a few months' time.
I am not optimistic for the future of this country. I tell my daughters [aged 18 and 21] to go abroad, because there are no prospects here for the young.”
'I won't vote because I can't afford to close shop'
Matteo Brogi, 27, owns a grocery store in central Florence.
“I won't be voting in this election. Not because I'm not interested in politics, but because I can't afford to close shop for a few hours [Matteo Brogi is registered to vote in a village outside Florence].
The austerity has hit us bad, but I wouldn't blame Mario Monti's government for this. It was a necessary evil. Italy couldn't just go on accumulating debt forever. What he did had to be done, and no one else was brave enough to do it.
Having said this, I would probably have voted for [centre-left candidate] Pier Luigi Bersani. He is the only one who can beat Silvio Berlusconi. Once again, Berlusconi has monopolised the campaign. But I know how to keep him out: I just switch off the television.”
'Bersani doesn't have Berlusconi's charisma, but he gets things done'
Paolo Paliaga, 51, teaches economics at the European School of Varese, Lombardy
“If we compare the current situation with what we had before, then Mario Monti is a hero. But he failed to take on the country's vested interests, including the political parties. He was the obvious candidate for the Italian presidency [a largely ceremonial post with limited powers]. Instead, he decided to enter the dirty business of politics. But he is no politician and now he will come a distant fourth.
When Berlusconi says that bribes are sometimes necessary, he speaks 'alla pancia' (to the stomach) of many Italians, who don't necessarily abide by the rules. For some the reasoning is easy: 'you cut my taxes, I give you my vote'. But most Italians now know that Berlusconi does not deliver on his promises.
His main opponent on the left, Bersani, is far more sparing in his promises. He doesn't have Berlusconi's charisma, nor can he capture the people's imagination like Berlusconi has done in the past. But he has a strong personality. He is concrete, serious, courageous, and he gets things done.”
'On Monday we could have more women in parliament than Germany'
Francesca Panzarin, 40, is a candidate in regional elections in Lombardy and the founder of womenomics.it, a website that campaigns for more gender equality.
“Two decades of Berlusconi have severely damaged the image of women in Italy. There is still a lot of sexism in politics and at the workplace. Only 47 percent of women work in Italy, and those who do have a job struggle to cope with the shopping, cleaning and mothering that is still done almost exclusively by women.
But things are starting to change. There are more and more organisations that seek to help women combine work and family requirements. Now we need to translate their initiatives into policies. Studies have shown that for every 100,000 new women entering the workforce, the country's GDP will go up by 0.3 percent.
This year there are a lot more female candidates, particularly from the left-wing parties. If we can reach 33 percent of women in parliament then we will have more than in Germany – that'll be at least one thing we beat them at!”