Italy goes to polls amid fears of far-right victory
Italians waited in long queues at polling booths yesterday to vote in an election that could bring political gridlock after a campaign marked by anger over the listless economy, high unemployment and immigration.
Pollsters have predicted that former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi's centre-right party and his far-right allies will emerge as the largest bloc in parliament but fall short of a majority.
The anti-establishment 5-Star Movement looks set to be the biggest single party, feeding off discontent over entrenched corruption and growing poverty, while the ruling centre-left bloc led by the Democratic Party (PD) is seen in third place.
Berlusconi and 5-Star leader Luigi Di Maio both had to wait in queues to cast their votes as new election procedures slowed the process at several polling stations.
At Berlusconi's voting station in Milan, a Femen activist bared her chest in front of the former premier and shouted, "time's up" before being hauled away.
"She passed so quickly I didn't get a chance to see her," quipped Berlusconi, who has a history of being caught up in sex scandals.
Berlusconi also said he was concerned about the queues.
"There will be queues as well this evening. I am worried that there might be some situations in which some people will not be able to vote," he said.
The turnout by noon was a little more than 19 percent. That was higher than five years ago, when Italians voted over two days, but slightly lower than a 2016 referendum in which the final turnout exceeded 68 percent.
Heavily indebted Italy is the third-largest economy in the 19-member euro zone and, though investors have been sanguine ahead of the ballot, prolonged political stalemate could reawaken the threat of market instability.
Polling stations closed at 2200 GMT, with exit polls due immediately afterwards.