More than 47 million Italians are voting Sunday and Monday in a general election that could bring media-magnate Silvio Berlusconi to power for the third time. But many in Italy say they are disillusioned by politicians. Sabina Castelfranco reports from Rome.
Polls opened early in Italy. Voters may cast ballots until 10:00 pm and then again on Monday until early afternoon.
The big choice is whether to bring back to power 71-year-old media magnate Silvio Berlusconi, who has been prime minister twice before. He is up against former Rome mayor Walter Veltroni, nearly 20 years his junior.
Because of the national mood, the campaign has been uncharacteristically low-key. Many Italians are disillusioned with a political class they say has failed to resolve the nation's troubles.
Among the concerns is that neither candidate will win by a large enough margin to avoid the political instability that has plagued the country.
In a bid to win independence from small and often troublesome allies, both leaders have streamlined their coalitions. Veltroni runs his new Democratic Party virtually alone.
Veltroni says forming a party with various identities and a reformist program represents a more European style of politics for Italians. Italian citizens who vote for us, Veltroni says, will be able to do what British and American voters do, that is, vote for a single parliamentary group that takes forward the program it represents.
Media mogul and center-right leader Silvio Berlusconi entered the race as the front-runner, capitalizing on the unpopularity of the outgoing center-left government of Romano Prodi. He has professed confidence in a strong victory up to the last days of the campaign.
But recent polls indicate Veltroni has narrowed the gap. Analysts say a crucial factor might be undecided voters - a significant percentage in the electorate.
Another voter concern is the nation's economic health. The economy has performed worse than the rest of the euro zone for the past decade. The International Monetary Fund predicts the Italian economy will grow by just three-tenths of one percent this year, compared with 1.4 percent average growth for the euro area.
Other issues on voters' minds include security and the immigration problem. Speaking at a recent rally, Berlusconi said the left has kept the doors open to illegal immigrants.
Berlusconi pledged to present a plan to allow into the country only those who come with a job and want to improve their quality of life and that of Italians.
Other issues that have been addressed in the electoral campaign leading up to these elections include a garbage collection crisis in Naples and a buffalo mozzarella and wine health scare that has hurt exports.