What to Watch For in Italy’s Election on Sunday


ROME — After a heated campaign, Italians are voting for a new Parliament on Sunday in an election that is being closely watched by European leaders for its potential impact on the country’s stability and political continuity.

Here’s what you need to know and what’s at stake.

Two dozen parties are on the ballot. They include a euroskeptic, a feminist, a communist party known as Power to the People and far-right groups like CasaPound and Forza Nuova. Many parties are running in coalitions.

Silvio Berlusconi, a former prime minister, isn’t a candidate because a tax fraud conviction bars him from public office, but the Forza Italia party he leads is part of a center-right coalition.

That coalition is running with the anti-Europe, anti-immigrant party League, formerly the Northern League, whose leader, Matteo Salvini, has tried to broaden its appeal to the southern regions it once disparaged as hotbeds of crime and corruption; with Fratelli d’Italia, or Brothers of Italy, the most recent postwar mutation of Mussolini’s fascist party; and with a smaller centrist party.

The center-right coalition is estimated to get more than 35 percent of votes.

The center-left coalition is anchored by the Democratic Party, which has been losing support in opinion polls since its leader, Matteo Renzi, stepped down a year ago after unsuccessfully lobbying to overhaul the Constitution.

The Democrats formed a coalition with three centrist and center-left movements: Civica Popolare, Insieme (an alliance of the Green Party and the Socialists) and Più Europa (More Europe), the pro-Europe party headed by the Radical Party leader Emma Bonino.

The coalition is expected to get about 28 percent of votes, according to polls.

The Five Star Movement, founded by a comic, Beppe Grillo, and by the-now deceased Gianroberto Casaleggio, whose son Davide has emerged as the party’s shadow puppeteer, is expected to garner 27 percent, according to polls, the most of any single party. The anti-establishment and populist movement has capitalized on widespread disaffection for Italy’s traditional parties.

Though Italy has one of the lowest percentages of migrants per capita in Europe, immigration has emerged as the campaign’s major theme. The issue was highlighted by an act of violence last month: the shooting of six African migrants by a right-wing sympathizer who ran with the League in a local election.

Candidates across the political spectrum have played up fears of immigrants in Italy, a country that has struggled with a wave of people arriving by the Mediterranean in search of a better life. Recent polls indicated that 70 percent of Italians were concerned about safety, partly because of fears of undocumented migrants.

Another major concern is the economy. Even as Italy has seen a slight uptick in growth over the past year, the national debt is at 130 percent of the gross domestic product, the second-highest level in the euro area, after Greece. But campaign speeches have mostly steered clear of any belt-tightening measures that may be required to lower that debt.

Fiscal promises have, nevertheless, blossomed during the campaign, including in the League and Forza Italia’s proposal for a single income and corporate tax rate of 23 percent, the Democrats’ tax breaks for families and Five Star’s guaranteed minimum income for millions of Italians.

Some Italians see the European Union’s budget deficit limit of 3 percent of G.D.P. as one of the major factors dragging down the economy, since it affects spending. Support in for the bloc’s common currency is among the lowest in Europe, and there is a lingering nostalgia for the lira, which some parties, including Forza Italia, have considered reintroducing.

Italians generally vote in large numbers: Turnout was 75 percent in 2013 and 80 percent in 2008. But polls suggest there will be higher abstention on Sunday than in previous elections, except among those who back the Five Star Movement. The number of undecided voters has reached a record high, estimated at 30 percent to 40 percent, with many women among them.

The polls are open from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Sunday, and voters can cast ballots for a candidate, a party or coalition. The vote will determine the 945 members of Parliament as well as the party or coalition that will run the country for the next five years.

Preliminary results based on exit polls will be released on national television and news websites after the polls close late Sunday. Official results will be available on Monday.

But it will take weeks before the next Italian government is sworn in. The new Parliament will hold its first session on March 23 and will vote to elect the speakers of the Lower House and the Senate, a first litmus test to gauge the political majority.

After that, Italy’s president, Sergio Mattarella, will start consultations to see which party or grouping in Parliament has the consensus to win a confidence vote.

After hearing from the parties, Mr. Mattarella will ask a lawmaker to try to form a government.

If no clear winner, with a certain majority, emerges from the election, Mr. Mattarella could confer an “exploratory mandate” to a lawmaker, or even the speakers of the two houses, to see if a broad coalition might be possible.

In case of a stalemate, the president could envision a nonelected person chosen on the basis of expertise in forming a government. That cabinet would still need to win a vote of confidence in Parliament.

Once the president has nominated a prime minister, the new government can be sworn in and face a vote of confidence in both houses.

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