Early exit polls from Italy’s general election show a lead for the centre-left bloc led by Pier Luigi Bersani.
The polls suggest Pier Luigi Bersani’s alliance has taken around 34% of the vote for parliament’s lower house, ahead of Silvio Berlusconi’s centre-right group with 29%, Sky Italia reports.
Beppe Grillo’s protest movement is projected to take nearly 20% of votes.
The two-day vote is seen as crucial for efforts to tackle Italy’s economic problems, as well as for the eurozone.
The election was called two months ahead of schedule, after Silvio Berlusconi’s party withdrew its support for Mario Monti’s technocratic government.
The first results based on partial vote counts are due in the next few hours.
If the exit polls are confirmed, they would echo the opinion polls prior to the election which made Pier Luigi Bersani’s centre-left Democratic Party (PD) a consistent frontrunner at nearly 35%.
Pier Luigi Bersani, a former Communist, has pledged to continue with the tough reforms of Mario Monti’s technocratic government, but suggests current European policy needs to do more to promote growth and jobs.
Silvio Berlusconi’s People of Freedom (PdL) centre-right alliance had narrowed the PD lead in the final weeks of campaigning – and may yet prevent Pier Luigi Bersani from winning an overall majority in the Senate, which is being fought on a region-by-region basis.
The fiercely anti-establishment Five Star movement of former comedian Beppe Grillo drew wide and growing support during the campaign, and threatened to be the major upset for the election.