THE front-runner to become Italy's next prime minister warned yesterday of a Greek-style social and economic meltdown unless austerity measures were maintained.
Final rallies in Rome, Naples and Florence ahead of tomorrow's general election brought a flurry of last-minute appeals to a deeply disillusioned nation.
Polls suggest as many five million Italians have not made up their minds which party to support in the election, which will be held over two days in a country hit by a series of corporate and political scandals.
Pier Luigi Bersani (61), the leader of the centre-left Democratic Party and the likely next prime minister, appealed to people flirting with a protest vote to consider the stakes for the Italian economy.
Speaking in Naples to his left-wing faithful, he warned forecasts that up to one-fifth of voters would back Beppe Grillo, an upstart former comedian, would be a catastrophe for Italy.
"The country is beset by problems and I understand people's anger, but to vote for Grillo will not get us out of trouble," said Mr Bersani.
"With Grillo, who says we should leave the euro and not pay our debts, we will become worse than Greece," he said.
A surge in support for Mr Grillo's Five Star Movement has come to symbolise the uncertainty over the election outcome.
He says Italy should consider exiting the euro and defaulting on its €2trn debt, which at more than 120pc of GDP is Europe's second-biggest after Greece.
Pollsters said Mr Grillo could win up to 20pc of the vote and even achieve second place by beating the centre-right coalition of former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi.
Mr Bersani, who started his political career as a Communist but later served as a reformist minister in a centre-left government, also had a dig at his principal rival.
Mr Berlusconi's government collapsed under the pressure of the eurozone crisis, making way for a 14-month technocrat government, led by Mario Monti, a former European commissioner.
Mr Monti, who is leading a disparate group of centrists that has failed to reach expectations in polls, could still enter a coaltion led by Mr Bersani.
But the two men diverge on tax rises and labour market reforms, leaving the possibility of a deadlocked parliament that could spell disaster for Italy's economy and rattle the rest of the eurozone. (© Daily Telegraph, London)