Tense wait for Italian leftists in neck-and-neck election

Tense wait for Italian leftists in neck-and-neck election

ROME - Agence France-Presse
Tense wait for Italian leftists in neck-and-neck election

Former Premier Silvio Berlusconi casts his ballot in Milan, Italy, Sunday, Feb. 24, 2013. Italy votes in a watershed parliamentary election Sunday and Monday that could shape the future of one of Europe's biggest economies. AP Photo/Antonio Calanni

Leftist supporters in Italy settled in for a tense wait at campaign headquarters in Rome on Monday as early results and projections showed a neck-and-neck race with Silvio Berlusconi's coalition.

There were few smiles after exit polls showing a victory in both chambers of parliament were quickly overtaken by inconclusive early results projected onto a giant screen.

Nervous-looking officials from the centre-left Democratic Party scurried around and were hard to pin down in the building, a former aquarium near the central Termini railway station.

"If there is one majority in the Chamber and another in the Senate, there is no government," Stefano Fassina, a top party official for economic and social affairs, said as reporters huddled round.

Fassina said the centre-left may have to seek an alliance with outgoing premier Mario Monti and his centrist coalition, but added he was not sure this would yield a majority to govern.

Party officials were not keen to answer questions from journalists in the hall, as increasingly doubtful results flashed up on a giant screen.

Marco Pacciotti, a party official for immigration affairs, admitted the result may not be conclusive and fresh elections may have to be held.

"The other option is going back to the polls very soon, with the risk of blocking Italy again for three months... It's dangerous," he said.

Alessandra Moretti, a candidate, said the results "give the impression of a country torn apart".

"The country is divided, undecided," said Moretti, who pointed to the huge inroads made by the anti-austerity Five Star Movement (M5S).

The movement "has succeeded where traditional politics has failed," she said.

Moretti hinted at possible collaboration with M5S -- "a relationship that could give us an agreement on concrete laws." "The situation is very uncertain," she said.

Pacciotti said the protest movement, led by former comedian Beppe Grillo, had collected "the fruit of general discontent in north and south".

"We will have to face them. We are not talking about an alliance but possible convergence on different themes on a case-by-case basis," he said.

Pacciotti said the worst-case scenario would be a loose majority formed for every individual law.

But Fassina cut short speculation on possible outcomes, saying: "We still don't have results.

"These are only projections. We need to wait for definitive results and then we will evaluate the situation," he said.

The mood was even more sombre at Monti's campaign headquarters in central Rome where there were only a few journalists and two candidates.

"We are worried about the situation in general and the possibility that the government will not have a majority," said candidate Mario Giro.

Giro proposed Monti as a possible central figure in negotiating what may require a delicate political balance.

"If the current results are confirmed, we'll have two big coalitions that will have to work together. Monti would be a pivot between the two. He'll be central," he said.

"Maybe we were not good enough at bringing our message to the people." Final results may be out later on Monday.