A political game on a scale not seen in recent memory has taken place in Italy, with the country’s two most senior politicians vying to lead a once-in-a-decade race to become the next president of the country.
As the vote nears, both centre-right and centre-left parties have committed to running at least one candidate in the June 7 elections, with incumbent Silvio Berlusconi’s People of Freedom Party (PDL) looking likely to win the most seats in the 135-seat lower house of parliament.
The contest is the first of the four-nation eurozone countries that form the European Union and is widely seen as the most important political test since the end of the Cold War.
The PDL, which took power in 2013, has enjoyed widespread support for its efforts to cut Italy’s bloated budget deficit and tackle the economy’s spiralling debt.
The party has been widely criticised for its perceived lack of populist appeal and its failure to address the countrys deep economic problems.
The centre-Right and centre left have been competing for the support of Italians since the 1960s, when Berlusconas party came to power on a wave of anti-establishment sentiment, as it pushed to slash pensions and raise taxes.
In the first round of the polls, which will be held on June 9, voters will be asked to pick between Berluscans centrist PDL or centre-Leftist PdL.
Both candidates have pledged to cut social welfare spending and boost tax revenue to shore up the economy.
The PdL, which is currently trailing in opinion polls, has also promised a much lower tax rate for businesses and lower tax rates for companies on the rich.
Berlusco has also said he will lower the retirement age to 65 for women, reduce the number of people on benefits, and introduce a national minimum wage of 2,500 euros ($2,100) per month.
The opposition leader and Berluscone’s political mentor, Matteo Salvini, has promised to raise taxes for the rich and has promised a tax on the wealthy and corporations.
The opposition leader, Gianni Pittella, has vowed to lower the pensions of the middle class, but the government has said it will not introduce a minimum wage.
The main challenger in the race is the centre-Green party, which has been running a campaign that emphasises a carbon-reduction strategy and an energy strategy.
Its leader, Francesco Scavo, is an economic nationalist and has said he wants to abolish the tax on carbon.
He is also a critic of Berluscians carbon-cutting policies, while calling for a minimum tax rate of 5% for all business, as well as lowering the pension age for women.
The Green party has also proposed a lower corporate tax rate, but has not committed to an increase in the minimum wage and is committed to increasing the minimum pension age.
Both candidates have promised to reform the way Italy deals with asylum seekers, which was a major issue during the last election.
Both the centre left and centre right have promised tougher anti-corruption measures, with Scavos calling for greater powers for the judiciary and the Green party pledging to establish a commission to investigate and punish corruption.
In addition, both parties have pledged more funding for universities and social services, and a new anti-crime law.
Berlusconi, who has won three successive elections, is widely viewed as the frontrunner because he has shown the support he needs to run.
He is a charismatic and well-liked leader who has become a symbol of Italian democracy after leading the country through a decade of recession and the economic crisis that followed the euro-zone debt crisis.
Berluscans centre-liberal government has also been credited with tackling the countryís growing inequality.
He launched the largest tax cut in Italian history and has pledged to reduce Italy’s deficit by up to 50% of GDP by 2019.
He also has a close relationship with Berlusca, whom he has met several times since assuming office in 2001, and they have been linked by a growing number of high-profile business and public figures.
Berliuscans popularity has also helped to boost the fortunes of the ruling Democratic Party, which saw its support fall by 10% in the latest poll.
The ruling party is currently the third-largest party in parliament, with Berluscano winning 39.9% of the vote, while the centre right and centre was on 40.4% each.
The polls also reflect the strong popularity of former Italian Prime Minister Silviano Berluscan, who won a third term in 2018, and former prime minister Enrico Letta, who was re-elected in 2019.
Berusca’s popularity has declined since his resignation in 2015 amid allegations of corruption and nepotism, while Letta’s has risen as the country grapples with a severe recession.