ROME -- As Italian voters head to the polls on Sunday and Monday to elect a new Parliament and three regional governments, the prevailing mood is one of anger and disillusionment.
The fledgling, anti-establishment parties that campaigned on promises of radical change could benefit from the voters' discontent, but the lack of a clear winner could also leave Italy mired in uncertainty.
"Italians feel frustration, anger, but also some hope for renewal," said Nicola Piepoli, who runs a polling company. They are frustrated, he said, because their taxes are rising but they see no improvements in their "economic and social life," and they are angry because candidates did not address "concrete problems" during the campaign, focusing instead on "futile, absurd things."
"But many still hope for some change," Mr. Piepoli added, explaining the growing support for populists like the comedian Beppe Grillo and his Five Star Movement, and for smaller parties like Civil Revolution, led by Antonio Ingroia, a former prosecutor, and Act to Stop the Decline, a movement guided by Oscar Giannino, a journalist.
Mostly though, the mood is dark among Italians fed up with protracted political scandals and disinclined to believe election promises because they are so rarely fulfilled.
(On Friday, former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, campaigning to return to office, made a new promise: he said that if he won, he would personally refund an unpopular property tax paid by Italians in 2012. "I will take four billion euros of my own fortune and give it to Italians," he said on television, a pledge of about $5.3 billion.)
"There's no one to vote for, and if I went to the polls I'd choose the least-worst candidate, so I prefer not to vote," said Concetta Rossi, a recruiter for hotel employees in Rome. "It's never been this bad."
The center-left Democratic Party, led by Pier Luigi Bersani, a low-key former industry minister, is expected to place first but is unlikely to win enough seats to govern without a coalition. The centrist movement backing the current prime minister, Mario Monti, is a possible ally, but even together they might not prevail in the Senate because the electoral law allocates seats based on regional votes. Lombardy and Sicily, where polls suggest that the right is strong, are crucial.
For the past year, Mr. Bersani, a former Communist who has played up his Catholic upbringing, has supported Mr. Monti's reformist agenda, though sometimes grudgingly. He has backed Mr. Monti's commitments to the European Union for greater fiscal responsibility, but would review policies that might have hurt workers and retirees.
Investors and economic analysts have their own concerns about the potential instability that could emerge in the absence of a strong government.
In its 15 months in office, Mr. Monti's technocratic government tried to pass much-needed reforms, but it failed to stimulate the economic growth required to pull Italy out of a persistent recession. On Friday, the European Commission said in its winter forecast that Italy's economy would shrink by 1 percent in 2013, double its November estimate.
Gains made by anti-establishment parties, including the Five Star Movement, could stall Mr. Monti's overhauls, and a strong showing by the center-right party led by Mr. Berlusconi could derail the austerity measures meant to keep Italy on a fiscally responsible track.
"The fear remains that the general election produces a significant no-confidence vote on the current austerity plan and the need to reform further," Raj Badiani, an economist with IHS Global Insight, wrote in a research report last week. "Without the prospect of a stable coalition government with a credible reform agenda, Italy could be forced to reconstruct a technocratic government to keep the markets at bay."
Alessandro Amadori, the director of Coesis, which conducts marketing and opinion polls, said the "emotional mapping" of Italy highlighted the population's "disenchantment and rage," and even its resignation. "People don't think that much will change. They hope for a sign, but they don't have high expectations."
Mr. Amadori added: "These elections will probably mark a moment of transition, rather than long-term change. Italians are looking for something that will shake things up, but what will emerge, we still don't know."world
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.