Bersani leads after Italy centre-left primary
Democratic Party chief sets up run-off against Florence mayor Renzi for election candidacy
Italian centre-left Democratic Party chief Pier Luigi Bersani is set for a run-off vote next week against young pretender Matteo Renzi, after millions of supporters chose their nominee for next year's general election.
With 40 per cent of the votes counted from Sunday's balloting, Bersani was in front with 44.3 per cent support, followed by Florence mayor Renzi with 36.3 per cent, the organising committee said.
More than four million supporters took part in the vote which will now head for a second round run-off this Sunday.
A general election is expected in April 2013 with the winner of the centre-left nomination one of the favourites to replace Mario Monti as Italy's next prime minister. All the most recent polls show the Democratic Party coming first in the general election.
Observers were surprised by the large turnout for the primaries and many polling stations were overwhelmed, with large queues forming outside.
More and more Italians are feeling the pain of a recession that began in the second half of last year and is forecast to continue into next year.
The main drama is between 61-year-old Bersani, a cigar-chomping former communist with a liberal economic orientation, and rising star Renzi, who at just 37 is a new face in politics, inspired by US President Barack Obama.
The primary is being held at a time of deep economic crisis and political uncertainty in Italy, with a series of corruption scandals within the main parties sparking voter apathy and disgust with traditional leaders.
Both men have said they will follow the broad course of reforms set by unelected technocrat prime minister Monti, but will seek to curb some of the more unpopular austerity measures he has advocated and do more to boost growth.
"We have to show the rest of the world that we don't just have Monti," Bersani, a former economic development minister, said last week.