Frustrated, Italians prepare to elect a new parliament

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ROME -- As Italian voters head to the polls today 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 4 billion euros of my own fortune and give it to Italians," he said on television, a pledge of about $5.3 billion.)

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.

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