TEHRAN, Young Journalists Club (YJC) - Tensions between the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement and the right-wing League were expected ahead of the May 26 ballot, as the traditional rivals which formed a government last June compete with each other for votes and coalition dominance.
But the intensity of hostilities has taken observers by surprise, fueled speculation about a government collapse and upset financial markets which fear fresh political uncertainty in the euro zone's third-largest economy.
5-Star leader Luigi Di Maio and League chief Matteo Salvini, previously known and even mocked for their cosy relationship, have sparred daily on a raft of issues including law-and-order, corruption, immigration and public finances.
Salvini repeatedly attacks Rome's "incompetent" municipal government, run by 5-Star, while Di Maio called the League chief "irresponsible" after he suggested Italy should raise its already huge public debt to try to create jobs.
Each party accuses the other of disloyalty and plotting to sink the government, yet speaking off the record, senior sources from both say that even though relations have soured, they can be repaired after the vote.
"For politicians elections have the same function as gates do between dogs: they bark furiously at each other but when you open the gate they just smell each others' bottoms and it all ends there," said a prominent League lawmaker.
Another League official dismissed reports Salvini could trigger early elections to run in alliance with his traditional partner, former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. "We certainly don't want to re-propose solutions from the past," he said.