By FRANCES D'EMILIO, Associated Press
ROME (AP) — Italy's election campaign reads much like a police blotter, chronicling a country whose politics lately have been increasingly nasty, divisive and even violent.
A young man knifed while affixing posters for a far-left party. A politician for a pro-fascism party beaten up on the street. A candidate for premier spat upon and shoved while stumping for her far-right party. Protests and counter-protests, in the streets from north to south.
The national vote this Sunday to determine who'll govern Italy appears unlikely to bring much relief. Prospects are high for weeks, even months, of more political tensions after the vote, with backroom party maneuvering quite possibly producing a crisis-prone, short-lived government with limited chances of making headway on Italy's economic and social issues.
Some fear an even more dismal outcome.
Sunday's vote "will bring Italy in line with the worst tendencies in contemporary European politics," predicted Cornell University sociology professor Mabel Berezin, who studies populism and fascism in Europe.
Noting a rise in xenophobia and nationalism in Central and Eastern Europe, Berezin said the main contenders in Italy's election include parties that have supported anti-European, anti-immigration and populist positions.
Over the last few years, the arrival of hundreds of thousands of migrants, many fleeing poverty in Africa, after rescue at sea from smugglers' boats, coupled with Italy's own slow economic recovery, makes for an extremely volatile situation, Berezin said.
Italy is also feeling the effects of its "legacy of fascism," which includes small political parties with neo-fascist roots in the decades following the demise of Benito Mussolini's dictatorship in World War II, the professor added.
The extreme far-right Forza Nuova, whose leader unabashedly describes himself as fascist, is among the smaller parties running candidates.
If opinion polls prove accurate, voters won't reward any one party or coalition with enough votes to yield the parliamentary majority needed to sustain a viable government.
Italian law forbids publishing opinion poll results in the last 15 days before an election. Earlier polls pointed to a hung legislature, split into three political blocs, each purportedly distrustful of allying with opponents in a government coalition.
"However the elections go, the situation will be opaque and fragile, but the market is used to seeing an unstable Italy," limiting the danger to Italy's sovereign bonds, said political scientist Roberto D'Alimonte, a Rome-based LUISS university professor.
Leading in opinion polls has been the populist 5-Star Movement. But because the 5-Stars deny they're a political party, their 31-year-old candidate for premier, Luigi Di Maio, nixes any entering into a postelection coalition government with established parties.