With polls set to open, Italian voters are preparing to decide the political fate of their country. But amid a divided political landscape, Italy's ex-premier warned the country could see "extremists" come to power.
In an election cycle punctuated by violence, voters are set to decide Italy's political future on Sunday. Political leaders gave their final campaign speeches on Friday, as Italian law observes electoral silence a day before the vote.
At a rally in Florence, former premier Matteo Renzi of the center-left Democratic Party (PD) warned that Italy was "at a crossroads," referring to rising support for far-right parties and the left-wing euroskeptic 5-Star Movement (M5S).
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"On March 4, we risk seeing the country in the hands of extremists and having to renounce the sacrifices that we Italians have made," Renzi told the last PD rally before the vote.
"I prefer to be in opposition than ally with extremists. We have put the country together; we cannot be complicit in a plan that wants to wreck everything," Renzi said.
Matteo Renzi is hoping to make a comeback after staking his premiership on a failed referendum in 2016
A right-of-center alliance led by Forza Italia, the party of former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, is expected to lead with 38.6 percent of the vote, according to the latest poll conducted by Euromedia Research.
The center-right Forza Italia has teamed up with three other parties, including the far-right Northern League. The right-wing alliance has campaigned on a platform of deporting 600,000 "irregular" migrants and cutting taxes to stimulate growth.
Matteo Salvini, who leads the Northern League, said Friday that he would borrow French President Emmanuel Macron's position that economic migrants must be returned to their countries of origin. He had previously vowed to deport 150,000 if his party wins the election.
Campaigning reached a fever pitch last month when a 28-year-old who ran as a candidate for the Northern League in local elections went on a two-hour shooting spree targeting African migrants in the eastern city of Macerata, leaving six of them injured.
Still the underdogs
The M5S is expected to gain the most votes as a single party. However, electoral regulations passed last year have undermined their hopes of leading the next government in a system that mixes proportional representation and first-past-the-post rules.
However, M5S leader Luigi Di Maio told a rally in Rome that the party was "one step away from victory," saying he had seen an unpublished poll that showed them performing well. Italian law forbids polls to be published two weeks before the vote.
Under Di Maio's leadership, the euroskeptic party has promised not to push for an exit from the eurozone or NATO despite those being core objectives of the party.
"From here ends the era of the opposition and begins that of governing," Di Maio said, highlighting his party's plan to halve MP's salaries and redirect government funds to those still affected by the 2008 financial crisis, from which Italy has yet to fully emerge.
As Italy is set to become the third-largest economy in the EU after Brexit, making it a strategic partner for Germany and France as they move to reform the bloc, its internal divisions could prove to be a stumbling block on the road to a more cohesive Europe.