The Five Star Movement look set to win the most seats in the March 4 elections but the question of who will be the next Italian Prime Minister is far less clear cut. Silvio Berlusconi is in the running once again but the likeliest candidate lies elsewhere, says former career Ambassador Pieter Swanepoel.
"I would not underestimate immigration as a factor turning the outcome of the elections towards a more right of centre government in Italy. That could well open the door for Tajani to step into office."
Berlusconi back in power?
What began as mere whispers, a distant possibility, is now becoming increasingly plausible: Silvio Berlusconi's party stands an excellent chance to win the March 4 election, as part of a wider coalition. And that could mean a shock return by Berlusconi to the position he occupied for nine years as Prime Minister of Italy.
Although the four-time Premier is only given a 7.26/1 chance on Betfair of being the next Prime Minister, and at present he is prohibited from taking office again due to a tax fraud conviction, his party, the centre-right Forza Italia (FI) is at this stage third in the polls.
Add to this the fact that the FI has entered into a pre-election coalition with the xenophobic Northern League (Lega) and the far right, post-fascist "Brothers of Italy" (FDI) and you can see why FI supporters might be getting excited.
Under new Italian election rules, there is now a very strong possibility that these three centre-right parties could get the required 40% majority they need to form a coalition.
If that does not happen, Italy will be left with a hung parliament, which could eventually lead to an unstable coalition based on the centre-left Democratic Party (PD) and the FI.
The prospects of the other political parties...
It is important to note that, as in many parliamentary democracies, there will be no official candidate on the ballots. The President of the Republic, Sergio Mattarella, and the newly elected senators and representatives will be free to appoint whomever they wish.
Keep in mind the internal splits and banking scandal hurt the PD's popularity. The question now is whether present Prime Minister Gentiloni (3.052/1 to be re-appointed) or the party's secretary, former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi (5.14/1), will be its candidate for leader.
Although the Eurosceptic Five Star Movement (MS5), under the leadership of Luigi Di Mata (6.411/2), is still on track to get the largest share of the vote, it has ruled out going into a coalition with any other party. This is an important aspect to keep in mind when playing this betting market.
Tajani for Prime Minister
My choice for prime minister is Antonio Tajani, the current second likeliest next PM on the Betfair market at 3.45, the present President of the European Parliament, who has repeatedly denied he wants to become prime minister, should Berlusconi's right-wing alliance of parties gather enough votes to govern.
And yet his name keeps on circulating.
The right-wing daily "Libero" recently wrote that his job in Brussels "has offered him shelter from the many controversies from our palace politics. Because of this (but not only because of this) he could be the 'new face', to nominate as premier for the centre-right".
Berlusconi's largest coalition partner, Lega, has been cold on Tajani. But his failure to challenge a recent revelation that he's a distant relative of the famous fascist general Pietro Badoglio has been seen by many in Rome as an overture to that part of the spectrum.
It could all come down to immigration
Italian Police arrested a man on February 3 suspected of carrying out a drive-by shooting spree that targeted African immigrants. At least six people were wounded in the central town of Macerata. This incident underlines the fact that immigration is one of the key issues in the lead up to the national elections.
I would not underestimate immigration as a factor turning the outcome of the elections towards a more right of centre government in Italy. That could well open the door for Tajani to step into office.