Italy’s general election is underway, pitting the right-wing coalition led by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi against the leftwing alliance of Romano Prodi.
The polls are open today and tomorrow with official results expected late on Monday evening.
Prodi, who cast his ballot in Bologna, was narrowly ahead in most opinion polls until they were suspended under electoral law, but millions of voters were still undecided.
A new voting system introduced in December means that whoever wins will probably have a smaller parliamentary majority than the outgoing administration – especially in the Senate which has a key role in passing legislation.
Silvio Berlusconi, Italy’s richest man, hopes his last minute promises of tax cuts will convince undecided voters.
But in the final days of campaigning the 69-year-old premier did entertain the possibility of a defeat which would end Italy’s longest serving post-war government.
He and Prodi have traded insults in an acrimonious campaign that many Italians claim has been short on policy.
Referring to left-wing voters, Berlusconi notably said “I trust the intelligence of the Italian people too much to think they are such pricks that they would vote against their own best interests.”
Whatever the verdict at the ballot box, forming a government could take at least a month.