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Exit Poll Shows Berlusconi Ahead in Italian Election

The first exit poll issued at the closing of voting in the Italian general election shows media mogul Silvio Berlusconi is on course to win and secure a third term as prime minister. The exit polls issued after the second day of voting, put the 71-year-old media magnate ahead in the lower and upper houses of parliament. Sabina Castelfranco reports from Rome.

If all goes according to the first exit polls in Italy, conservative media magnate Silvio Berlusconi will return to power for a third time. Observers had been expecting him to win as he has been ahead in the pre-election voter surveys.

But the exit polls have a two percent margin of error and Berlusconi's lead over his center-left rival, the former Rome mayor, Walter Veltroni is slim. Berlusconi appears to have only a two-percent lead over Veltroni in the lower house and a three-percent lead in the upper house.

Commentator Massimo Franco said it is necessary to be cautious at this stage. He said if this were the final result it would be surprising. It would come close to what has often been defined as a draw, and a result that can only be considered a paradox in a situation where someone wanted a clear-cut win.

A clearer picture could be expected later in the day from pollsters' projections. Exit polls failed to predict accurately the outcome of the last parliamentary election in 2006.

More than 47 million Italian voters were eligible to vote in these elections. But up to one third had not decided who they would vote for until the last minute. Many complained there was little to choose from between the two platforms.

Berlusconi was prime minister for seven months from April 1994 and from 2001-2006. If elected, he has vowed to cut Italy's public debt, the third highest in the world in absolute terms and trim taxes.

Few Italians really believe there will be a significant change with a new government, the country's 62nd since World War Two. Turnout this time appeared to have been lower than in the general elections two years ago, mainly due to voter apathy and disillusionment with the political establishment.