Strong turnout as Italy heads to the polls in close election

Strong turnout as Italy heads to the polls in close election
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Italians headed to the polls on February 24 for the first day of voting in a parliamentary election that analysts believe will end with no clear winner.

Despite snow and rain in much of Italy, turnout was high on the first day of voting. Official figures at noon on February 24 showed that turnout was only slightly lower than at the same point during the last election in 2008.

Voting ends at 15:00 CET on February 25, with official results expected by the early hours of February 26.

The latest opinion data gave Pier Luigi Bersani’s centre-left coalition a narrow lead over the centre-right alliance of Silvio Berlusconi. But no polls have been published since Italy’s pre-election blackout began on February 8.

Outgoing prime minister Mario Monti and his centrist faction failed to build strong momentum during the campaign. But political pundits believe Monti could end up as kingmaker because Bersani may need to team up with him in order to form a workable administration.

Controversial former prime minister Berlusconi, currently fighting a court conviction for tax evasion, made a dramatic return to the political stage during the lead-up to the election.

Berlusconi grabbed the headlines once again as he cast his vote in Milan. A group of women’s rights activists picked that moment to protest against him – topless.

Anti-establishment comedian Beppe Grillo had a successful campaign. Pollsters say his Five Star movement could come in third or even second. More than 500,000 people are estimated to have attended his final rally on February 22.

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