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4 Mar, 2018 06:01

Italy's election day: Eurosceptics, nativists & Berlusconi look to replace socialist coalition

Polls are open for Italy’s general election, which is expected to radically reshape the country’s political landscape in favor of right-wing and anti-establishment parties.

On Sunday, Italians will vote to elect deputies to both houses of the country’s parliament for the first time since 2013. In an unusual arrangement, both the 320-seat Senate and the 650-seat Chamber of Deputies possess identical powers and are voted in using two different versions of proportional representation.

Before a mandated blackout, the final mid-February polls predicted a major slide for the center-left Democratic Party, which led a majority in both chambers for the past five years but was expected to gain about 21 to 22 percent of the votes this time around. The predicted front-runner is the anti-establishment and Eurosceptic Five-Star Movement led by 31-year-old Luigi Di Maio.

Pollsters predicted that the Five-Star Movement could net as much as 30 percent of the vote, although they dismissed the possibility of it reaching the 40-percent threshold needed to form its own government.

“I think at the last moment a lot of undecided voters will go for Five-Star and it will take them above 30 percent,” head of the Winpoll agency, Federico Benini, told Reuters. “These voters want change, and at this election, that is represented by 5-Star.”

The Five-Star Movement has said it will not enter any coalition and it is unlikely to get an overall majority, meaning the government could be formed by the Center-Right Coalition, which is in a position to attain 38 percent of the vote. It comprises Forza Italia (15-17 percent) led by 81-year-old former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, who remains barred from taking office until next year, and Lega Nord (14-15 percent), an anti-immigrant party.

According to pollsters, the election’s winner may be decided by the south, where Italians are still undecided between Five-Star and Berlusconi’s Forza Italia.

With the help of the country’s economically stagnant southern regions, the 5-Star Movement may emerge as the party with the single largest group of MPs. “The signs that the traditional political landscape will be overturned are multiplying,” wrote Mario Calabresi, editor of the Rome-based daily La Repubblica, in a front-page column on Saturday. “The winds of protest and disenchantment are sweeping from north to south.”

Exit polls will be published when voting stations close at 11:00 pm GMT, while official results will be known by Monday. The make-up of the government is likely to remain uncertain for weeks, while negotiations take place.