Centre-Leftin Italy picks candidate for next PM

Italy’s centre-left voted on Sunday to choose the candidate who will be the leading contender to succeed Mario Monti as prime minister after an election in March and take charge of steering the country through a deep recession.

Opinion surveys show Democratic Party leader Pier Luigi Bersani is the frontrunner among five candidates, followed by Florence mayor Matteo Renzi, who has vowed to shake up Italy's political establishment if he is chosen to lead the alliance. The vote will eliminate a major element of uncertainty in choosing a successor to Monti’s technocrat government.

The centre-left alliance is well ahead in opinion polls for the parliamentary election and the winner of the primary vote is in pole position to take over Monti's efforts to control strained public finances and tackle a year-long recession.

Support for former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s deeply divided centre-right People of Freedom party (PDL) has crumbled to less than half than it recorded in the last election in 2008. Berlusconi said on Saturday he was again thinking about running, deepening the PDL chaos.

“It’s time for a return to serious politics, and as a consequence we can start to resolve the economy,” said 57-year-old Vincenzo Donna Maria, after he cast his vote for lower house deputy Bruno Tabacci, one of the other candidates, at a busy outdoor polling station in northern Rome.

A woman who voted for Bersani, who did not wish to be named, said she hoped for “a better country, led by honest people”.

Both Bersani and Renzi reject the idea, encouraged by international markets, that Monti should return after the vote to continue his economic policies that have so far included unpopular spending cuts, tax rises and labour reform.

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