(MENAFN - Arab News) Italian center-left voters take to the polls on Sunday to choose between Democratic Party leader Pier Luigi Bersani and Florence mayor Matteo Renzi to be their candidate for prime minister next year.
The 61-year-old Bersani, a former communist party man, faces a stark challenge from the 37-year-old Renzi, a rising star who looks to US President Barack Obama and former British prime minister Tony Blair for inspiration.
Both candidates have said that if they win the general election they would follow the broad course of reforms set by Prime Minister Mario Monti, who has pulled Italy back from the brink of bankruptcy during a year in government.
Bersani however has said he would seek to moderate some of the austerity measures implemented by Monti, which have created growing resentment among many Italians against the unelected technocratic government currently in place.
The winner of the vote will be one of the favorites to lead Italy's next government since polls indicate the Democratic Party will win general elections expected in March or April 2013, although not with an outright majority.
The primary selection process is also being seen as an important milestone for the left since the wave of support for Renzi could move the Democratic Party towards a more centrist political stance comparable to Britain's "New Labor".
Bersani won 44.9 percent of the vote in a first round of the primary on Nov. 25 in which 3.1 million people cast their ballots. Renzi came second with 35.5 percent - a result that still impressed many political observers.
For his US-style campaign for the nomination, Renzi travelled across Italy in a camper van and held rallies under the slogan: "Let's Change Italy Now!"
Bersani too is not taking victory for granted and has been touring the country to mobilize the electorate and to try to win over the people who voted for three other candidates who were runners-up in the first round.
A recent poll gave Bersani a nine-point lead over Renzi, but his more charismatic rival scores better in television debates and is seen as a "transversal" figure who can take votes from the center-right come next year.
Following a debate on RAI public television this week, 49 percent of viewers polled by La Stampa daily said they found Renzi more convincing.
Only 38 percent thought Bersani had won the debate.
In the run-up to the primary, Bersani has tried to spruce up his image by taking to social media and promoting women to senior posts on his team.
The former minister has presented himself as a calming influence on a stormy political scene against Renzi, who has no experience in national government.