domenica 25 maggio 2014

Tension high, as Renzi, Grillo, Berlusconi wrap up campaigns

Premier says EP election won't alter coalition, vows to press on

(ANSA) - Rome, May 23 - Premier Matteo Renzi, 5-Star Movement (M5S) head Beppe Grillo and centre-right leader Silvio Berlusconi on Friday made their final appeals for votes in Sunday's European elections at the end of a particularly bitter campaign, even by Italian standards. Grillo has predicted his anti-establishment, Euroskeptic M5S, whose stated aim is to destroy the current party system, will win the vote and that Democratic Party (PD) leader Renzi will suffer a political "lupara bianca" - a term used to refer to a mafia hit that leaves no trace of evidence - as a result.

Berlusconi, whose opposition Forza Italia (FI) party was trailing well behind the centre-left PD and the M5S before a pre-election ban on the publication of opinion polls kicked in two weeks ago, has repeatedly compared Grillo to Hitler. The three-time premier also called Grillo, who expects the M5S to do even better than the 25% of votes it claimed at last year's inconclusive general election, a "killer", referring to a 1980 manslaughter conviction for a car accident in which the comedian-turned-politician was the driver and three people died.

Grillo, meanwhile, at one stage said that Berlusconi's poodle should be chopped up, before backtracking by saying he didn't want vivisection for the animal but for his owner. Adding to the tension is Grillo's threat to lead hordes of M5S supporters in Rome next week to demand new national elections and the resignation of President Giorgio Napolitano, who he says is not a fair arbiter of Italian politics, if his movement comes first. "Grillo isn't funny any more, he's scary," Berlusconi said Friday, adding that Italians would be better not voting at all rather than voting for the M5S. "There's a risk of disturbing public disorder if he wins. "Authoritarian regimes were born in the same economic conditions as today. He's not a tin-pot dictator, he wants to destroy everything".

Renzi, meanwhile, has sought to portray himself as the man who is trying to turn the country around. He has said Sunday's vote is a "derby" match "between those who think the future of Italy is evoking terror and bet on defeat" and those "how are putting ourselves on the line and trying to change things".

Renzi has embarked on an ambitious programme of institutional and economic reforms since unseating his PD colleague Enrico Letta in February to become Italy's youngest premier at 39. These include a drive to change the Constitution and transform the Senate into a leaner assembly of local-government representatives with limited lawmaking powers as part of an overhaul of the country's slow, costly political machinery. He defended the record of his government in its first 80-days at a press conference on Friday, saying the introduction of a 80-euro tax bonus per month for low earners would boost Italy's recovery from its longest post-war recession. "Those who think that we have done publicity interventions for the first 80 days will have to think again," he said. "It's only by lowering taxes that Italy will be saved".

The PD had a big lead in the most-recent polls, but Grillo is confident his M5S can come first with a late surge. The premier has stressed that government will "keep going" even if the PD does not come first on Sunday.

Grillo, meanwhile, said the M5S represents the "Plan B" for the Europe. "Communism didn't work. Capitalism is what we have now and it doesn't come with democracy. We are Europe's plan B," Grillo told a rally in Rome to close his campaign. Grillo is a extremely critical of the European Union and wants a referendum on whether Italy should stop having the euro as it currency. But the M5S has spurned links to other Euroskeptic parties, such as the Northern League in Italy and the Front National (FN) in France. 

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