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AS IT HAPPENED: Exit polls point to hung parliament after Italian election

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AS IT HAPPENED: Exit polls point to hung parliament after Italian election
A polling advisor casts a ballot in Milan. Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP
11:00 CET+01:00
Italians went to the polls today to vote in the country's general election after a rollercoaster of a campaign. Follow our live blog for the latest updates, predictions, and the results when we get them.

SUMMARY

  • Italians cast their votes on Sunday in a general election that follows a divisive campaign
  • Exit polls suggested that no party or coalition had an overall majority, but that the populist Five Star Movement was the largest party with around 30 percent of the vote
  • Turnout was around 74 percent, the Interior Ministry said
  • The Local has been talking to voters and experts about their hopes and predictions for the vote
  • You can find all The Local's election coverage, including party profiles, in-depth features, and daily coverage of the campaign, here: The Local's complete guide to the Italian election

07:00 New live blog

The votes are still being counted, but the result is raising more questions than it has answered.

We'll be bringing you the latest updates, reaction and analysis in a live blog throughout the day. Click the link below to follow along:

LIVE: Italy faces political uncertainty after populist surge in election

01:40 We're closing this live blog

We're now wrapping up our blog for the night, but will be back in the morning to see how accurate those exit polls were, and what's likely to happen next. Some of the key things to look out for over the next few hours are whether Berlusconi's coalition can scrape a majority, and who will come out on top between Forza Italia and the League.

Thanks for joining us! Remember to check back on our homepage, Facebook, and Twitter, for all the latest on Italian politics.

READ MORE: Berlusconi's right-wing coalition in the lead, but short of majority: exit polls

01:30 According to Twitter, Italy is over

Some people have taken the exit polls harder than others. One of the trending hashtags on Italian Twitter is #ItalyIsOverParty, a series of laments about which way the country seems to have swung, and particularly the apparent success of Matteo Salvini's anti-immigration League.

"Ignorance, the past, pathological amnesia won. I hope they don't keep their promises"

"I'm ready to leave"

("This is petrol, I'm setting fire to myself")

01:10 'Exit polls can go horribly wrong'

Remember, these numbers we're all talking about are not the election results. They're only exit polls, and in Italy especially, they can be way off.

"In theory, there should be a swing between up to two or three percent, but we've seen in past elections that exit polls can go horribly wrong," De Montfort University senior politics lecturer Arianna Giovannini tells The Local.

"So I'm not holding my breath and considering that these are anything that's going to be close to the final results."

We'll have to wait until around 2pm on Monday for those. 

01:00 Happy faces at the M5S HQ

All the experts we're speaking to are agreed on one thing: it's been a good day for the M5S.

Party leader Luigi Di Maio has posted videos of his and his colleagues' jubilant reactions to the projections currently being shared on Italian TV.

00:57 Impact on the euro

Populist parties scooped over half of the vote in Italy today, and political instability looks likely. It looks like the first exit polls have had an impact on the markets.

00:50 'Rarely such an uncertain outcome'

With no bloc achieving a majority, Franco Pavoncello, professor of political science and president of John Cabot University in Rome, told The Local there was "rarely such an uncertain outcome" in an Italian election.

Yet one thing is clear: the Five Star Movement "is a pivotal force of the next parliament, by far the largest party, equal almost to the entire centre-right coalition", he says.

"Are they coming together and forming a government, or is either of them going to look for the votes of a shattered left and form a government with them? All three outcomes are possible and reasonable at the moment [...]

"But at the same time the M5S occupies centre stage and the nation has to deal with that reality." 

M5S leader Luigi Di Maio poses with supporters after voting in Naples on Sunday. Photo: Carlo Hermann/AFP

00:40 'A moment of reckoning for the Five Star Movement'

If the exit polls are accurate, the Five Star Movement would be the strongest party by some way; in which case it seems hard to imagine a government that doesn't include it.

Too strong to be excluded but not strong enough to govern alone, the M5S now faces a "moment of reckoning", says Arianna Giovannini, senior lecturer in Local Politics at De Montfort University in the UK.

"And I think that's interesting because up until now, much of the strength of the Five Star Movement comes from its ability to use the typical populist position which is neither right or left. But if they do enter a coalition [...] that means that they have to take a position."

Any choice risks costing them support, Giovannini tells The Local: the League, which shares some positions with the M5S and likewise presents itself as an outsider to traditional politics, would alienate the M5S's centrist or left-leaning members. Similarly, entering a coalition with the governing Democratic Party would, for a movement that sells itself as anti-establishment, "mean going against everything they've stood for until now".  

00:16 Seat projections for the Senate

After the seat projections for the Lower House of Parliament, here are Rai's projections for the Upper House.

Rai hasn't broken the results down into individual parties, but broadcaster La7 has -- and in their projection, the League gets more votes than coalition ally Forza Italia.

00:10 Salvini tweets

"My first word: Thank you!"

The leader of the League has a lot to smile about. If exit polls are correct, his party's neck-and-neck with coalition ally Forza Italia, whose leader Silvio Berlusconi was banking on being the senior partner in the bloc.

He's the first leader of one of the four major parties to use social media after the exit polls. 

00:07 First seat projections

Below are the first seat projections from public broadcaster Rai. Because the election this year used a new and untested electoral law, and some seats are allocated through proportional representation and others through first-past-the-post, all projections should be taken with a pinch of salt.

Rai's figures for the Chamber of Deputies (Lower House):
Centre-right coalition:225-265
Centre-left: 115-155
Five Star Movement: 195-235
Free and Equal: 12-20
Others: 6-8

00:00 'No feasible majority without the M5S'

The start of a new day and week... and a new government for Italy?

Politics professor James Newell, who earlier wrote an analysis of how Italian politics has changed and what this means for the election, has been speaking to The Local.

Newell said that if the exit poll numbers translate into corresponding numbers of seats (note: Italy's new electoral system means this may not necessarily be the case), then the Five Stars will have to reach an agreement with the other parties. The M5S has long refused to enter into coalitions due to its 'anti-establishment' stance.

"It is likely that there will be no feasible majority without the Movement: it is unlikely (based on the numbers) that a PD-FI combination will be able to command a majority: as things stand, the only majorities that would appear possible are one consisting of the Movement and the League or else one consisting of the Movement, the League and the Brothers of Italy," Newell added.

Basically, if the numbers are correct, it's possible that the only feasible coalition will be one between the Five Star Movement and the League.

23:52 'White race' candidate in the lead in Lombardy

As well as the general election, regional elections also took place today in Lazio and Lombardy.

In Lombardy, the League candidate -- whose calls earlier in the campaign to "defend the white race" prompted outrage -- was in the lead, according to exit polls. Attilio Fontana was on course to gain 38-42 percent of the vote, polls for broadcaster Rai showed.

"We have to decide if our ethnicity, if our white race, if our society continues to exist or if it will be wiped out," Fontana said in January, later describing the comment as a "slip of the tongue".

23:48 Five Stars "a pillar of the next legislature"

The Five Star Movement's Alfonso Bonafede has been speaking to press at the party HQ after exit polls forecast the party to get 30 percent of the vote.

"The Five Star Movement will be a pillar of the next legislature," Bonafede said.

If the exit polls are right -- and remember it's still a big 'if' -- he could have a point. A 30 percent result for the anti-establishment party would leave the other parties struggling to reach a 40 percent majority without them.


Alfonso Bonafede speaks to press. Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

23:41 Turnout was close to 74 percent

According to the Interior Ministry's latest count, turnout for the parliamentary elections was around 74 percent. That's comparable to the 2013 election (75 percent).  

23:35 Twitter reaction

We'll be speaking to political scientists to get their views on what led to this result and what could happen next, but for now here's what some of the journalists who have been following the election had to say on Twitter about those exit polls.

Economic journalist Ferdinando Giugliano

"The mantra of the M5S propaganda will be: 'No majority is possible without the M5S'. Translation: don't think of cutting us out of the power games" La Stampa journalist and author of a book about the Five Star Movement

Reuters journalist Peter Thal Larsen

The Local's Catherine Edwards

23:29 The exit polls, translated

Here are the main things to know about what the exit polls suggest:

  1. No one has a majority.
  2. The centre-right is the strongest bloc.
  3. The Five Star Movement is the strongest single party, by quite some way.
  4. The Democratic Party is the second single party.
  5. But as a whole, the Democrats' centre-left bloc is in third place.
  6. The League may be the largest party on the centre-right.
  7. The new Free and Equal (LeU) left-wing party has won enough to enter parliament.
  8. The pro-Europe +Europa list may have missed out. 

23:20 More on those exit polls

The first thing to remember is that this isn't the final result, and the polls were inaccurate last time.

But if they're on the right lines, it looks like a bad night for the Democratic Party (PD) and a very good one for the Five Star Movement (M5S). Berlusconi's coalition looks to have done less well than predicted, and fallen short of a majority -- but it could yet reach a majority.

The bigger upset for the coalition is likely to be the fact that its two main parties, the League and Forza Italia, look to be neck and neck. Leaders Berlusconi and Salvini have found a lot to disagree on over the campaign, from their policy on the euro to candidates for PM, so it will be interesting to see which of them has come out on top.

23:05 Five Star Movement largest party: exit polls

The exit polls are here. From Rai News:

Five Star Movement: 29-32 percent

Democratic Party: 20.5-23.5 percent

League: 13-16 percent

Forza Italia: 13-16 percent

Brothers of Italy: 4-6 percent

23:00 The polls are closed

It's over. Well, actually it's just beginning. The first exit polls are expected shortly, then we'll have to wait several more hours for the full results. And as we reported earlier, that will likely be followed by some negotiation between the different parties and coalitions -- unless one of them gets an outright majority.

Stay with us for the results of the exit poll, reaction and predictions.

22: 48 Opposite versions of the 'lesser of two evils'

The Local heard from two voters who said they were voting for what they felt to be the least bad option – but with exact opposite results.

Rome native Ilenia, in her early 40s, said that she and many of her friends and family were voting for the Democratic Party, "not because we really like them, but because I think we need to strengthen them so that they can better take on the right, which will most probably win.


Journalists wait at the Democratic Party headquarters. Photo: Tiziana Fabi/AFP

"If I could vote freely, without that concern, I would vote for Free and Equal (LeU), because I really like [Speaker of the Lower House] Laura Boldrini."

Meanwhile a Milanese-Sicilian voter in his 20s, who preferred not to publish his name, said that he thought the PD and LeU were the greater evil, since "they've been in power for the last six years and nothing has changed".

Instead, he said, he would vote for the League and its leader Matteo Salvini, "mainly because he is open about addressing the mafia in the south and is not intimidated by the European Commission".  

22:45 Countdown to exit polls

Just 15 minutes to go now until the polls close, shortly after which we can expect the first exit polls. These should be taken with a pinch of salt, and we won't know the full results until Monday morning. Counting the ballots will take some time, due partly to the complex new electoral law.

And even then, it's likely we'll have to wait for negotiations before we know what Italy's next government will look like.

22:37 It looks set to be a bad night for the Democratic Party

Several analysts have told The Local that the biggest surprise for them would be to see the Democratic Party come out of today's vote strong. The governing party looks set to take a battering, with the final pre-vote polls indicating that it could be heading for one its worst performances yet.

What's changed since it took power last time round?


PD leader Matteo Renzi leaves a polling station in Florence earlier today. Photo: Claudio Giovannini/AFP

"The PD pays [for] its incumbency in a context of feeble economic recovery and the defeat in the constitutional referendum," says Paolo Chiocchetti, a fellow of the Robert Schuman Institute of European Affairs at the University of Luxembourg.

The party is also blamed for its handling of migration: it has been in power throughout the Europe-wide migrant crisis that has seen thousands of people arrive in Italy since 2015.  

22:30 What's changed in this election?

"I am struck by the striking novelties of the election campaign that has just come to an end," writes Italian politics professor James Newell.

“The purpose of an election campaign, the purpose of elections, is to install a new parliament and a new government; but it is necessary to take the event as an opportunity to assess the state of the country, to carry out a sort of analysis of ourselves.

"Currently, we see the country, from above, bombarded by promises, on the part of more or less all parties, that are totally unrealistic and totally irresponsible, and from below, citizens – that is us – who have a strange attitude: because on the one hand we no longer have any confidence in politics, we no longer trust politicians, but then we are ready to believe everything that we are told and promised.”

Read the rest of the article for Newell's analysis of how Italian politics has changed in recent years, and what this could mean for today's vote.

ANALYSIS: What can we expect after the Italian election, and how did we get here?

22:05 Soggy election posters

Remember we said it was raining in Rome? The capital has had wet weather for the past two weeks and these election posters by Cipro metro station are showing the signs. All the easier to take them down tomorrow... 

22:00 A coalition seems likely, but which one?

According to Hans Noel, an associate professor with Georgetown University's Department of Government, "unless there is a bit of a surprise in the results, we are looking at some negotiations to determine the next government".

In other words, no single bloc is expected to get the 40 percent needed to form a majority alone. So who might team up with who?

1. The centre-right and... who?
The centre-right – centrist Forza Italia, the populist Lega and right-wing Brothers of Italy (FdI) – is likely to be the largest bloc overall, Professor Noel told The Local, but they don't have any obvious coalition partners.

"They seem capable of overcoming internal disagreements if they are to form a government themselves, but I am less sure they can stay united if they must also form a coalition with someone else," he says. "The Lega and the FdI may not be willing to compromise with the PD [centre-left Democratic Party]. Meanwhile, Forza Italia will probably not want to ally with the Five Star Movement (M5S), and that feeling is mutual."

2. A big, grand coalition: The whole centre-left and part of the right
"Ironically, this means that the smallest of the big coalitions, the centre-left, may actually be the most likely to be in government. Forza Italia plus centre-left, possibly including the Lega or FdI, are possibilities. In that case, the prime minister might even come from the PD," Noel says – perhaps the incumbent Paolo Gentiloni, who despite being a supposed caretaker enjoys popularity with the public and has made allies across party lines. He might be more appealing to the PD's coalition partners than its party leader, the love-him-or-hate-him former PM Matteo Renzi.

3. Keeping it simple: The two centrist parties
"The more different parties in such a grand coalition, the less stable it may be. So a PD plus FI coalition may last longer than one with the rest of the centre-right. It's not that having more support is bad, but there are more opportunities for disagreements down the road."

4. A sea change: Populists unite
"A less likely scenario is that the Lega and FdI form a coalition with the M5S. This would be a major turn in policy for Italy."

5. No coalition, no government
"Finally, things may be so messy that a caretaker government is formed, and new elections called." 

21:55 The election campaign in pictures

It's been a long campaign -- or maybe it just feels like it? Either way, if you want a quick pictoral recap, we've rounded up 12 of the most striking photos from the last few months in Italian politics.

12 photos that tell the story of the Italian election campaign


Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

21:18 Mistakes and anti-fraud measures slow down vote

Some voters have had to wait longer than usual to cast their ballots this year, due to changes in the electoral system as well as errors and delays in some parts of Italy.

Polling stations opened two hours late in parts of Palermo, Sicily due to a mix-up with the ballot papers, while in Mantova there were errors on the papers but voting was able to go ahead.


Ballots are cast in Rome. Photo: AFP

There were long queues in both Rome and Milan, mainly due to anti-fraud measures introduced this year which mean each paper must be checked by a voting official before it is put into the urn. Authorities in both cities advised voters to head to the polls sooner rather than later.

And in one part of the Parioli district in Rome, 36 voters used ballot papers with the wrong names on them before the error was spotted shortly after 10 am, Rai News reported. Voting officials said the residents who had submitted the wrong papers would be contacted for a chance to recast their vote.

20:39 Three brothers, three votes

The Local spoke to one 55-year-old voter in Rome (he preferred not to publish his name), who told us that he is one of three brothers who have all made different choices in this election.

One lives in Rome too and is voting for the Five Star Movement, the other lives in London and chose not to vote because he feels undecided.

And the third brother? He's voting for "a combination" on the left: Free and Equal (LeU) in the Lower House, "because I feel they can strengthen the representation of the 'classic' left into the parliament". And Power to the People in the Senate, "because they are the new formation and also represent the young and unemployed of the south of Italy".

His third and final vote – people in Lazio and Lombardy are also voting for new regional governments today – went to the Democratic Party, because he likes what their candidate (the incumbent president of Lazio) has done so far.

"I hope that there will be a left coalition winner so they can change the Italian policy towards better integration in Europe, more employment opportunities and civil rights," he told us. "Unfortunately [I think] none of the parties will get a majority or votes and there will be a transitional government leading to new, future elections."

... meaning that voters like him and his brothers will have to make all their decisions over again.  

20:35 There's an official app to watch the Italian election

The Interior Ministry has created a fancy new app that shows the results of the lower house, senate and regional elections as they come in. For now you can use it to follow the turnout in real time.

20:29 'Pissed off' voters

Here are some more comments from Italian voters, as told to AFP.

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

Canali said he knew many other young people who, fed up with high youth unemployment, had decided to support the M5S: "They're pissed off, can't bear (PD leader Matteo) Renzi anymore and maybe they're right."

In the southern town of Pomigliano d'Arco, pensioner Francesco said he was voting for Five Star leader Luigi Di Maio. "I voted Communist and I was disappointed, I voted for PD for many years, and now I'm fed up with them," he said. "We need a really radical change, let's give these young people a chance."

20:20 A 106-year-old voter

Earlier The Local spoke to a first-time voter, aged 18, and in the picture below you can see 106-year-old Luisa Zappitelli casting her vote.

She told Tg2Rai: "It's a sacrosanct right and should always be defended and carried out." Zappitelli hasn't missed a vote in 72 years.

Italy has one of the world's oldest populations, and because over-65's are such a large chunk of the population, politicians often represent their interests. What's more, citizens don't get full voting rights until the age of 25: before then, eligible voters can only vote for one of the two chambers of parliament.

These factors have led to growing dissatisfaction among Italy's youth, many of whom have voted with their feet by leaving the country altogether.

READ MORE: Young Italians are leaving Italy in huge numbers

20:10 Femen activist who flashed Berlusconi detained

The woman who confronted Silvio Berlusconi as he arrived at a polling station in Milan (see below) was taken into custody, according to a fellow member of the feminist group Femen.

19:37 Turnout estimated at 58.7 percent 

According to YouTrend pollsters, turnout at 7 pm was estimated at 58.7 percent. That's slightly up on the turnout in 2016's constitutional referendum, when it was 57.2 percent at the same time.

Rainy weather and dissatisfaction with the options on the ballot are two reasons many commenters predicted a low turnout in today's vote, but polls remain open for another four hours.

Earlier figures from YouTrend had suggested that turnout had risen in the southern regions, where the Five Star Movement and Berlusconi's Forza Italia are expected to perform well, but dropped in the central areas that have traditionally been leftist strongholds.

19:35 The view from a first-time voter

Ippolita Magrone, 18, is voting in Rome today for the first time in her life.

She told The Local: "I am voting because I think that every voice can make the difference and that we should embrace this opportunity. The biggest struggle I faced when told to vote was that no one had educated me on politics.

"I think this is a big issue because we do not live in an environment that stimulates our political ideologies, this leaves our generation to be completely hopeless towards politics and voting."

19:20 Inside an Italian polling station

Here's what a typical polling station in Rome looks like.

1: Stations are marked with a sign showing which electoral sections of the city can vote there.

2: This is one of the larger stations, with several sections each in different rooms.

3: The list of candidates. Like many, this station is a school – hence the kiddies' drawings in the background.

4: Up close: each candidate is listed with their full name, the name they go by, and the date and place of their birth.

5: Lower House candidates on the left, Upper House candidates on the right.

6: Voting instructions for the regional elections in Lazio, the region to which Rome belongs and which is electing a new council and president today alongside the parliamentary vote. More than one person was studying these and looking flummoxed...

7: Showing ID and collecting ballot papers from the officials. For the first time this election, voters have to return their completed ballots back to the officials, who check the ballot ID number against their register as a precaution against fraud, instead of putting them directly in the ballot box (just visible on the pink stool).

8: Voting cabins.

9: Nuns on their way back from voting! 


All photos: Jessica Phelan/The Local

19:08 Asia Argento voting for the first time since she was 18

Filmmaker Asia Argento, one of the earliest voices in the #MeToo movement against sexism, harassment and violence, says she's voting for the first time in years. No prizes for guessing who she won't be voting for: Silvio Berlusconi, who she accuses of normalizing the objectification of women during his "bunga bunga" premiership. 

READ ALSO: Berlusconi on #MeToo: 'Women are happy when men court them'

19:05 Italy's election has a Google Doodle

This is what internet users in Italy are seeing when they open their browser today:

Clicking on it takes you to a search for 'Italian general election'. Or you can just keep checking in here for all the latest news...

19:00 What's in a name?

One question we often get asked at The Local is how we decide which terms to use to define political parties: far-right, populist, centre-right, and so on. This is rarely an easy task, thanks to Italy's fragmented and frequently changing political landscape, particularly when parties are hard to pin down on their stances on key issues.

In the articles below, we've looked into the issue more deeply with regards to two parties that appear on track for a strong performance today: the Five Star Movement and the League.

If you've got other questions about the Italian political system, get in touch with us on Facebook or Twitter.

18:38 Pets at the polls

Just a couple of dogs at polling stations.


Photo: AFP

18:31 CasaPound VP casts his vote

Pictured below is Simone Di Stefano, vice-president of the neofascist CasaPound party as he cast his ballot in Rome earlier today.


Photo: AFP

Immigration was one of the most discussed issues in a tense election campaign, and rallies held by CasaPound as well as those by anti-fascist groups in protest have both led to violence in some instances, with dozens of demonstrators arrested.

Read more about CasaPound in the article below.

CasaPound: Italy's anti-migrant neighbourhood patrollers

18:22 The view from Rome

The Local's Jessica Phelan is out in Rome today reporting on the vote. She filmed this video from the capital:

18:11 What do overseas voters think?

According to Europe Elects, more than four million absentee ballots have been cast in the general election.

In the run-up to the election, The Local spoke to several Italians living abroad to find out which campaign issues mattered most to them, and what it was like observing it all from overseas.

“I am desperately hoping for an outcome that does not cripple the Italian economy beyond the possibility of repair, nor destroys the remnants of a liberal democratic culture," one Italian living in Belgium told us. 

Read the rest of the comments in the article below, and if you're an Italian living abroad, get in touch with us at news.italy@thelocal.com or via Twitter or Facebook to share your views.

READ MORE: Here's what Italians living abroad think about the election

18:05 Pictures from the polls

As we reported earlier, turnout by midday was up on the 2013 election. Here are some photos from polling stations across the country, which in many places have seen long queues.


All photos: Tiziana Fabi, Miguel Medina, and Andreas Solaro/AFP

17:47 Fighting talk from the League's Salvini

Matteo Salvini, who leads the radical right League, was the last of Italy's major party leaders to cast his vote today, heading to a polling station in Milan at around 5 pm.

He's also been active on Twitter throughout the day, getting in a few last minute barbs at the other Matteo (Renzi, the former PM and leader of the Democratic Party).

"Renzi tomorrow will meet the same end as this lovely snowman: he'll melt!" Salvini wrote in the above Tweet. 'Pupazzo di neve' is the Italian term for 'snowman', while 'pupazzo' also means puppet.

This followed an earlier Tweet in which Salvini posted pictures of both Matteos side by side. "Let's send him home forever," he wrote. "More Italy, Italians first, let's take this country back!"

17:35 Granny spin doctors and psycho dwarves

The election campaign has been characterized by divisive rhetoric from the far right, despair from voters at the Italian political system, and Silvio Berlusconi being Silvio Berlusconi.

In the article below, we rounded up 17 of the most memorable phrases from a rollercoaster campaign, from the offensive to the downright bizarre, featuring granny spin doctors and psycho dwarves.

17 of the most memorable quotes from the Italian election campaign 
A man wearing a mask of League leader Matteo Salvini stands in front of placards reading: I said you stank. Now I want your vote. Why not, peasants? Photo: Riccardo de Luca/Avaaz

17:21 When will we know the results? 

Polls are open today until 11pm, with the first exit poll expected shortly after they close. 

If you're following the vote in Italy, broadcasters Rai and La7 begin their election coverage shortly before 11pm, and they run through the night into Monday morning.

Because of the high level of uncertainty -- a large proportion of voters were undecided in the final pre-vote polls, and a new untested electoral law further complicates the vote -- it's hard to say when the result will be clear. The final results should be known by around 2pm on Monday, though if they're inconclusive, that still won't tell us what Italy's next government will look like.

On the other hand, if one party or coalition has an absolute majority, the result might be clear much earlier on.

17:00 Party leaders cast their ballots

Almost all the leaders of Italy's major parties have now cast their vote, though Berlusconi is the only one to have been interrupted by a topless protester while doing so (see previous update).

Leader of the Brothers of Italy party and junior ally in Berlusconi's coalition, Giorgia Meloni.

Matteo Salvini, who leads Italy's League (formerly the Northern League) was set to cast his vote in Milan at 5 pm.


Former prime minister and leader of the Democratic Party Matteo Renzi casts his vote in Florence. Photo: Claudio Giovannini/AFP

Five Star Movement leader Luigi Di Maio hands in his ballot paper. Photo: Carlo Hermann/AFP

You'll notice there are no snaps of the politicians actually putting their ballots into the box, and there's a good reason for that.

Italy's ballot papers had a makeover this year, partly due to a new (and complex) electoral law and partly to tackle voter fraud. Now, voters don't put their ballots in the urn directly, but hand them over to a voting official who checks the ID numbers match up before putting it into the box. So now you know.

16:29 Topless protester interrupts Berlusconi's vote


The protester climbed on the table at the polling station. Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP

Silvio Berlusconi cast his ballot at a polling station in Milan this morning, where he was met by a topless protester.

The woman, reportedly linked to feminist activist group Femen, climbed onto the table and shouted "Berlusconi, sei scaduto" (Berlusconi, your time's up), wearing bodypaint on her chest with the same slogan.

Eighty-one-year-old Berlusconi made a return to politics as leader of a centre-right coalition, so he may act as kingmaker despite a tax fraud conviction that bars him from holding public office. Find out more about the "immortal" Berlusconi in the features below:

16:00 Turnout up on 2013

Polls have been open for nine hours now, and so far it looks like turnout is higher than in the last election in 2013.

Figures from the Interior Ministry showed that by midday, 19.43 percent of eligible voters had already cast their vote, compared to just under 15 percent at the same time five years ago. Many observers had predicted a fall in turnout this year.

From now until after the exit polls come through around 11pm local time, The Local will be bringing you regular updates and explainers on Italy's election. You can also join us on Twitter and Facebook to share your views or ask questions about the Italian political system.

13:34 How does it all work?

The Italian political system is a complicated beast: find out ten key points in our primer here.

And just to keep things interesting, today's election will use a new, never before tested, and rather complex law.

This was a necessity after Italy was left with two different electoral systems for its houses of parliament in December 2016. Former PM Matteo Renzi had reformed the way the lower house was elected, but his attempts to do the same in the Senate failed, creating an inconsistent electoral system.

Over the next few months, Italy's parties grappled with the task of putting together a new electoral law, which was finally passed in October.

Read more here: How does Italy's new electoral law actually work?

11:45 Who's running?

Italy has a fragmented political system, so this gets complicated. Click on the links below to read our party explainers.

There are four main parties: the centre-right Forza Italia (FI), radical right League (formerly the Northern League), the centre-left Democratic Party (PD), and the populist Five Star Movement (M5S).

FI and the League are running in a coalition together with the smaller Brothers of Italy party, and there are also many more small parties which could end up playing a key role in building a government once voting is over. 

If you want to know more about the cast of characters you'll be hearing more about today, read our 'who's who' guide below.

Who's who in Italy's 2018 election?

Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

 

 

11:00 Welcome to The Local's live blog for the Italian election

It's been a tumultuous election campaign in Italy, but today is the day Italians head to the polls.

From around 4pm local time, we'll be updating this blog with live updates of all things election-related. Polls are open from 7am to 11pm, and the first exit poll is expected shortly after they close.

As for how things will turn out, that's anyone's guess. Opinion polls are officially banned during the last two weeks of the campaign, though the final pre-vote polls put Silvio Berlusconi's centre-right coalition in the lead, but short of an absolute majority. That's just one forecast though: for a more thorough look at some of the most likely post-election scenarios, click here.

The Local's Europe Editor Catherine Edwards will be running this blog and our journalist Jessica Phelan will be out in Rome bringing us reaction from voters and experts throughout the day. Follow us on Twitter and get in touch with your election opinions and predictions.

You can also head to our Facebook page to let us know your thoughts.

Meanwhile, if you want to catch up on the story so far, take a look at our election coverage by clicking on the link below:

The Local's complete guide to the Italian election: what you need to know

The Local's complete guide to the Italian election: what you need to know
Photo: vkovalcik/Depositphotos

 

 

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