Feb. 22 - Candidates in Italy's parliamentary elections hold their final rallies before the February 24-25 vote. Silvio Berlusconi's rebound and the rise of a comedian have thrown the election wide open. Analysts are questioning whether the poll will produce the strong government, with a mandate for reform, that the country needs. Joanna Partridge reports.
No waving flags or soaring anthems, but a low key end to campaigning for Italy's outgoing Prime Minister Mario Monti. He's hardly a showman like his predecessor Silvio Berlusconi -and he held his final rally before the weekend's vote in a modest theatre in Florence. Monti was a caretaker leader - he reminded his audience he brought in austerity policies, got borrowing under control and won the backing of his European partners. SOUNDBITE: Mario Monti, Outgoing Italian Prime Minister, saying (Italian): "This morning, two things were announced, one: that Italy is expected to get out of recession from the middle of 2013." Even at this late stage, the race is wide open. SOUNDBITE: Angela Giuliani, Rome resident, saying (Italian): "I'll certainly go and vote but I still don't know who for - at the moment I still really don't know." SOUNDBITE: Marco Federicci, Business man, saying (Italian): "I'm not going to vote for anybody, I'm going to spoil my ballot because none of them are satisfactory." Former minister Pier Luigi Bersani is still seen as the favourite - pollsters expect him to form a centre-left government with Monti. But former Prime Minister Berlusconi has bounced back from sex and financial scandals. The 76-year-old disappointed supporters when he cancelled his final rally in Naples, reportedly suffering from conjunctivits. His rebound has caused concern the vote will be split and so Italy may not get a strong government to carry out reforms. Italians are fed up with record unemployment and tax increases says political journalist Massimo Franco. SOUNDBITE: Massimo Franco, Political Journalist with the Corriere della Sera newspaper, saying (English): "There might be a relative victory of the protest vote which means that the parliament may be in trouble in the next months." The main recipient of that protest vote could be populist comedian Beppe Grillo. His anti-establishment Five Star movement may even be the third-biggest party. The markets have been calm in the run-up to the vote, but Michael Hewson from CMC Markets says an inconclusive result could prompt a bigger investor sell-off than Berlusconi returning to power. SOUNDBITE: Michael Hewson, CMC Markets, saying (English): "I think that's going to make bond investors in Italian debt very, very nervous. I think we could see a push higher, towards 5 percent, on the ten year measure and it could well present the ECB with a significant problem if the reform programme stalls, and if that happens, that's going to be fairly negative for risk." Whoever wins the election will inherit public debt of 2 trillion euros - the highest amount since World War One. And they'll have to tackle the lack of growth in the euro zone's most sluggish economy.