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Pier Luigi Bersani's coalition has won a majority in the lower house - but cannot command a majority in the Senate. Markus Schreiber/AP
What now?

Second election likely in Italy as Bersani fails to seal grip on power

Silvio Berlusconi’s strength in key regions means Pier Luigi Bersani cannot claim power, with another election now due.

ITALIANS ARE LIKELY to have to go to the polls again in the coming weeks to hold a second general election, after votes cast in this week’s ballots failed to conclusively appoint a new government.

The centre-left coalition led by Pier Luigi Bersani topped the polls for both the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate, but the strength of Silvio Berlusconi’s centre-right movement in key regions has put a roadblock on Bersani’s path to power.

Italian law means that the coalition that tops the nationwide poll for the Chamber of Deputies is guaranteed a majority in that house, ensuring that Bersani has a comfortable majority there – even though he scored barely 1 per cent more of the vote than Berlusconi.

In the Senate, however, coalitions are given bonus seats depending on the results of regional ballots – meaning that Berlusconi’s victories in key provinces like Sicily and Lombardy, which includes his home city of Milan, meant his coalition is the largest in terms of Senate seats.

A further complicating factor is the phenomenal performance of the ‘Five Star Movement’, an apolitical anti-establishment movement led by former TV comedian Beppe Grillo, which is the single largest party in the Chamber and took over a sixth of the Senate.

Bersani-Monti alliance falls short

Bersani had hoped that he could form a power-sharing administration with the supporters of the outgoing technocratic premier Mario Monti, who registered a new political party to fight the election – but his support failed to materialise, with voters shunning him for introducing unpopular austerity measures.

Monti’s movement won just over 10 per cent of votes for the Chamber, and 9 per cent for the Senate – with the later meaning that the Bersani-Monti coalition would have only 125 seats in the Senate, still way short of the 158 needed for a majority.

If Grillo’s movement was to ally with Berlusconi, the pair would have 171 Senate seats – easily enough for a majority in the Senate – but would still face Bersani’s legally-guaranteed massive majority in the Chamber.

The only prospect that would avert the need for another election is if Grillo and his supporters decided to back a Bersani-Monti partnership – though this could prove difficult to stomach for Italians who voted for the Five Star Alliance simply as a protest vote against the established parties.

Nonetheless, Italian state news agency Ansa quoted a spokesman for the Alliance who said the new party would “gather, listen to the network and decide what to do”.

The Five Star Alliance chose its parliamentary candidates based on an online primary, and campaigns on a platform that free internet access should be considered a human right – suggesting that the party could canvas its supporters to decide how to respond.

Berlusconi, for his part, told Italy’s Channel 5 he did not believe it was “useful” to consider holding a second election.

Further complications

The elections are further complicated by the forthcoming retirement of the Italian president, Georgio Napolitano, whose seven-year term lapses in May.

The Italian presidency is elected by the parliament, but only the President has the power to dissolve the parliament – meaning the new dysfunctional parliament may have to convene and elect a new president whose first task could be to call another election.

In the meantime, Mario Monti’s outgoing government remains in place in a caretaker capacity – but its power to legislate is nullified by the absence of parliamentary support, while any sense of a public mandate has been lost by the poor showing of support for Monti in the election.

Investors have already acted with unease to the result of the election: the interest rate on a 10-year loan for the Italian government by 0.25 per cent yesterday.

Italy would now have to pay 4.85 per cent annual interest on a 10-year loan – up from 4.07 per cent only a month ago.

Explainer: Everything you need to know about the Italian election

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