Italians began to vote Sunday in crucial elections that could shake fragile euro zone economies.
If the two-day parliamentary elections yield a strong government that can continue strong austerity measures and debt cutting policy, it may pull Italy out of recession and help solve the euro zone crisis, while a paralyzed government could prove disastrous.
The latest opinion polls indicate a lead for the leftist Democratic Party and its leader Pier Luigi Bersani, who has promised to continue with the reforms. But he could fall short of a majority, forcing him to form a coalition.
Silvio Berlusconi, the three-time former prime minister, is trailing five points behind Bersani in the opinion polls. Berlusconi, who is facing trial on alleged tax frauds and sex scandals, has promised tax cuts, hoping on a comeback. Anti-establishment-comedian-turned-politician Beppe Grillo is another serious contender as his 5-Star movement, formed by political novices, is gaining support across the political spectrum, Reuters reported.
Mario Monti, the incumbent prime minister, is trailing as the austerity measures he took to pull the country out of the debt crisis have hurt his popularity. Monti is expected to join a coalition.
Several citizens who voted Sunday told Reuters that such a situation could produce instability and lead to another general election. "I think we will have to go to elections again ... I expect instability for the next two years," said Vincenzo D'Ouria, voting in Milan.
"I fear the outcome will be a weak government, but maybe this is just a necessary transition to be able, in one or two years, to chose someone who can really govern Italy," said Cristina Rossi, 40, a civil engineer who was on her way to vote.
Markets are also closely watching the elections as the outcome could affect the economy and monetary policy of the nation in the coming months.
Voting started at 8 a.m. (0700 GMT). Polling booths will remain open until 10 p.m. Sunday and open again between 7 a.m. and 3 p.m. Monday. Official results are expected to come by early Tuesday.