A new voting system could spell an end to fragile coalition governments
Italians will choose a new government on Sunday and the outcome is widely seen as too close to call.
For the first time, the country is voting under a new system that mixes proportional representation with first-past-the-post balloting.
That means the winner will need around 40 percent of the vote to govern, but could make do with less if they sweep the first-past-the-post seats.
The anti-establishment and populist Five-Star Movement is expected to emerge as Italy's largest party.
Its leader Luigi Di Maio has already named ministers if called on to to form a government; a highly unusual move aimed at stealing a march on its rivals and showing voters it is ready for power.
Step to the right
But Italy's right-leaning parties are also riding high on the wave of populism. The head of the Northern League, Matteo Salvini is another favourite to take the top job as a key member of the centre-right coalition led by Silvio Berlusconi, Italy's former prime minister who's returned from the political wilderness.
As Berlusconi is banned from political office after being convicted of tax evasion, he has put forward Antoni Tajani as prime minster if his bloc wins but the European Parliament president has refused to be drawn on his long-time ally's proposal.
If no workable government can be created some politicians have suggested Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni's centre-left government should stay in office until new elections are held,
Some analysts have suggested that parties might give Gentiloni a limited mandate to re-write the electoral laws again, but it is hard to see consensus forming on this issue any time soon.