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Rome Will Burn, Regardless of Italian Election Result

St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, Italy.
Guy Vandereist | Photographer's Choice | Getty Images
St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, Italy.

Regardless of who wins next weekend's parliamentary election, Italy's long economic decline is likely to continue because the next government won't be strong enough to pursue the tough reforms needed to make its economy competitive again.

Bankers, diplomats and industrialists in Rome and Milan despair at how Italians are shifting allegiances ahead of the Feb. 24-25 vote to favor anti-establishment upstarts and show disgust with the established parties.

That makes it more likely that no bloc will have the political strength to tackle Italy's deep-rooted economic crisis, which has made it Europe's most sluggish large economy for the past two decades.

Final opinion polls predict that the vote will deliver a working majority in both houses for a center-left coalition, governing in alliance with technocrat former prime minister Mario Monti. Political risk consultancy Eurasia assigns this scenario a 50-60 percent probability.

But Italy's election for both chambers of parliament has the potential to tip the euro zone back into instability if the outcome does not produce that result.

(Read More: Italy Elections Could Derail Economy Further)

The colorful cast of candidates includes disgraced media tycoon Silvio Berlusconi, one of the world's richest men, the bespectacled academic Monti, anti-establishment comedian Beppe Grillo, who campaigns from a camper van, and Nichi Vendola, a former communist poet who is the governor of Puglia.

Investors have so far taken a relaxed view, relying on polls produced until the legal deadline for surveys of Feb. 10.

One of the best indicators that they are not worried: Italian benchmark 10-year bond yields, which topped six percent during the country's worst political moments in 2011, are now trading around 4.4 percent, almost a full percentage point lower than those of Spain.

Italian stocks have performed broadly in line with the wider European market since January, despite the election and a wave of scandals which has engulfed several leading Italian groups.

But observers in Italy are increasingly nervous that the rosy election scenario favored by investors may not work out.

A jaded electorate, angry about political corruption, economic mismanagement and a national crisis that has impoverished a once-wealthy member of the G7 club of rich nations, could produce a surprise.

Pier Luigi Bersani, the standard-bearer for the center-left, is a worthy but lackluster former minister whose party has been linked to a banking scandal in the medieval Tuscan town of Siena. Support for his party now seems to be fading.

Opponents have latched on to the fact that the ailing bank, Monte dei Paschi, was run by a foundation dominated by political appointees from the center-left and accused Bersani's party of presiding over a debacle that will cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of euros.

Contact Europe: Economy

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