Can the anti-Berlusconi pull Italy out of the mire?

Story highlights

  • Center-left Democratic Party leader Pier Luigi Bersani, 61, expected to win election
  • Cigar-smoking ex-communist has spent career in politics, served in three cabinets
  • Bersani said he'd continue Monti's budget cuts, but that stimulus is needed too
  • After years of turbulent ex-premier Berlusconi, Bersani is seen as pair of safe hands
The man expected to become Italy's next prime minister won't pound the bully pulpit like Silvio Berlusconi. He won't claim to be the Jesus Christ of politics, or praise Barack Obama's "tan", and it's highly unlikely you'll bump into him at an all-night bunga bunga party.
No, Pier Luigi Bersani is seen as a safe pair of hands -- and now, after a lifetime in politics, the 61-year-old leader of the center-left Democratic Party is hoping to hang on to a lead in the polls that bombastic three-time former premier Berlusconi had all but wiped out in the dying days of the campaign.
A cigar-puffing ex-communist and pillar of the Italian left, Bersani campaigned on the promise of "A Just Italy" -- but as he knows, it will take far more than words to fix Europe's fourth-largest economy.
Italy in crisis
From top to bottom, Italy is a mess. Berlusconi, its last elected prime minister, quit in disgrace in 2011 and is now on trial for allegedly paying for sex with an underage girl. Italy has the third highest debt-to-GDP ratio in the first world, and only Haiti and Zimbabwe grew less from 2000 to 2010.
Italy ranks 72nd in corruption -- behind Ghana and Saudi Arabia -- and at an estimated €140 billion euros in yearly turnover, organized crime is the country's biggest industry, according to one business association report. Italy ranks a woeful 73rd in the Ease of Doing Business index, 80th in gender equality, and income equality is growing.
Mario Monti, who was appointed to run the country after Berlusconi's departure, has forced through a bitter package of cost-cutting measures to save the country from financial ruin, snuffing out any hope of short-term growth. Italy's economy has shrunk for a staggering six straight quarters, and its 11.2% unemployment rate is the highest since they began keeping records in 1999.