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Hours left to decide: Italy votes on Sunday, result uncertain

Hours left to decide: Italy votes on Sunday, result uncertain
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Italians are preparing to head to the polls on February 24-25 in a parliamentary election that is too close to call.

The campaign has been full of surprises. Initially a favourite, Pier Luigi Bersani of the centre-left Democratic Party (PD) has lost ground and there is doubt over whether he could form a stable majority.

While Bersani’s popularity has waned, anti-establishment comedian Beppe Grillo has gained huge momentum over the last few months. More than 500,000 people attended his final rally on February 22, as he criticised politicians for consuming the country.

Outgoing Prime Minister Mario Monti, a former European Union commissioner appointed in 2011 to help avert financial crisis in Italy, has disappointed supporters by only attracting around 10 percent of the vote according to estimates.

Former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi made a political comeback during the campaign, whipping up support for his centre-right People of Freedom party. The party’s Secretary General Angelino Alfano said it can win in Campania – a crucial region because of the number of senators it sends to Italy’s upper house of parliament.

The centre-left and centre-right are close to a draw in several battleground regions, including industrial powerhouse Lombardy, which returns the most senators. Lega Nord leader Roberto Maroni is in with a chance of winning there.

Publishing polls is banned in Italy for two weeks before the vote, adding to uncertainty over how the tight race will end.