Italy election: Bersani, Monti, Berlusconi campaign ends

Beppo Grillo (22 February 2013)
Image caption Comedian-turned-politician Beppo Grillo attacked Italy's traditional parties in his final campaigning speech

Political parties in Italy have held their final campaign rallies ahead of a general election that begins on Sunday.

They are not allowed to campaign in the 24 hours before the polls open.

The centre-left Democratic Party (PD) led by Pier Luigi Bersani's has taken a lead. Coalitions led by outgoing Prime Minister Mario Monti and ex-PM Silvio Berlusconi are also running.

The election is taking place amid a deep recession and austerity measures that have caused public resentment.

It is also being closely watched in the eurozone, with the Italian government's future commitment to austerity measures particularly under scrutiny.

The polls suggest there will also be a strong turnout for popular comedian Beppe Grillo's Five Star Movement (Movimento 5 Stelle or M5S) - an anti-establishment citizens' movement.

'Go home'

M5S held a huge final rally in Rome. The BBC's Alan Johnston in the capital says Mr Grillo delivered one of his trademark, raucous speeches, savaging traditional parties.

Referring to politicians, he said: "You have consumed the entire country, the lives of thousands of people. You must go home."

Image caption The election is taking place amid a deep recession and austerity measures

Earlier, Mr Berlusconi had attacked his left-wing opponents, accusing them of having an envious attitude towards the country's hardworking, entrepreneurial class.

His centre-right alliance PDL has been gaining ground but was still thought to be lagging behind the PD when a poll blackout was imposed earlier this month.

Mr Bersani ended his campaign with an address in a theatre in Rome, in which he cast himself as an honest man, ready to form a government that Italians could trust, says our correspondent.

The election is being held two months early, after Mr Berlusconi's party withdrew its support for Mr Monti's technocratic government.

Mr Monti has introduced cuts to public services in an effort to reduce national borrowing and maintain the confidence of financial markets.

Mr Bersani, a former Communist, has pledged to continue with Mr Monti's reforms, but suggests current European policy needs to do more to promote growth and jobs.

However, recent weeks have seen a narrowing of his lead over the centre-right coalition of Mr Berlusconi, who is critical of austerity measures.

The election is being closely watched by economists, who are worried about the effect Italy's future policies may have on the eurozone economy.

London-based analysts Capital Economics said an unclear outcome to the election was its biggest concern.

"A hung parliament might plunge Italy and the eurozone back into crisis rather sooner," it said.