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Italians vote in cliffhanger elections

Feb 24 2013 14:40

Rome - Voting was under way in Italy's general election on Sunday, amid uncertainty about who will prevail and signs of mounting support for a radical protest party which advocates a referendum on the country's eurozone exit.

Polling stations opened at 8am (07:00 GMT) and were to close at 10pm. A second day of voting takes place on Monday, from 7am to 3pm, with exit polls due immediately thereafter.

A total of around 50 million Italians are eligible to vote, but analysts predict abstention rates of around 30%. Snow in northern Italy was expected to hold some voters back.

According the Ministry of Interior, voter turnout stood at 14.6% by noon, down from 16.3% at the last general elections in 2008.

The frontrunner in the contest is centre-left leader Pier Luigi Bersani, but his "Italy Common Good" coalition risks falling short of a majority in the upper house of parliament, the Senate.

Negotiations to form a government may be complicated by the likely success of comedian Beppe Grillo, whose anti-establishment Five Star Movement drew hundreds of thousands of people for its final rally on Friday in Rome.

Pollsters say the movement could emerge as the third or second-largest single party in parliament. Grillo is not standing himself, but has pledged to act as the party's "spokesperson."

The other main contenders are scandal-prone former premier Silvio Berlusconi, whose conservative coalition was trailing the centre-left before an opinion polls blackout came into force on February 8, and outgoing premier Mario Monti.

Monti's centrist alliance is seen as the most likely coalition partner for Bersani - were he not to secure a solid majority - but the prospective deal is hindered by policy differences between Monti and Bersani's leftist ally, Nichi Vendola.

All the leaders except Grillo had cast their vote by Sunday morning.

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