Europe watches Italy election for populist, euroskeptic gains

Europe watches Italy election for populist, euroskeptic gains

The first exit polls should be published immediately after and the votes are expected to be fully counted around 2pm on Monday local time (3pm GMT).

Yesterday's election may not produce a clear victor as opinion polls published before a Feb 17 blackout showed a hung Parliament as the most likely scenario.

"This election campaign has been pretty squalid, including from the Democratic Party (PD), who I voted for", 24-year-old barber Mirko Canali told AFP after casting his vote in Rome.

Berlusconi also said he was concerned about the queues.

Five Star's leader Luigi Di Maio broke with tradition by announcing a full list of ministerial nominees ahead of the vote, including many academics with no political experience.

Berlusconi queued inside his polling station in Milan before he was able to vote.

The voting ends late afternoon and the final result was expected to come out late Sunday night.

Voters in Italy are going to the polls to determine a new parliament, with populist and far-right parties, including three-time Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's coalition, and a center-left alliance looking to win the right to form a new government. "It's been the case before but never like today", said Roberto D'Alimonte, head of political science at Rome's Luiss University. The polls rank second in the Eurosceptic "5 Star Movement", while 3rd in the center-left coalition.

If no party wins an overall majority, one scenario outlined by analysts could be a grand coalition between the Democratic Party and Forza Italia - a prospect that would reassure investors but risks spreading more cynicism and emboldening populists and the far-right.

Democratic Party leader Matteo Renzi told a final campaign event in his native Florence on Friday that only a vote for his party would prevent Salvini from taking power.

Some pollsters say the League could overtake Berlsuconi's Forza Italia (Go Italy!) party on Sunday.

Meanwhile, President Sergio Mattarella will consult the various parliamentary groups to see if there is a figure who can command a majority, and if not, new elections could be called. "If the centre-right doesn't get a majority, a lot will depend on whether Five Star opens up to the idea of a coalition".

The economy and immigration are set to be the top issues of contention this year, following the 2015 migrant crisis that saw Italy become a spot for new arrivals form the Mediterranean.

The billionaire tycoon can not himself hold office because of a tax fraud conviction but has put forward European Parliament President Antonio Tajani as his prime ministerial nominee.

Tajani will battle coalition partner Matteo Salvini, 43, leader of the right-wing League Party, for dominance of Italy's center-right bloc and the right to be nominated as prime minister.

Populist parties have been on the rise across Europe since the 2008 financial crisis, but mainstream parties in Italy have found it especially hard to contain voter anger, with the economy still 6 percent smaller than a decade ago and unemployment stuck at about 11 percent.

Although all party leaders have ruled out any post-election alliances with rivals, Italy - which has seen 65 governments since World War II - has a long history of finding a way out of apparently intractable political stalemate.

Some polling stations remained closed in Palermo two hours into election day because the wrong ballots were delivered and 200,000 new ones had to be reprinted overnight.