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Voters Go To Polls In italy After Bitter Parliamentary Campaign

Silvio Berlusconi, leader of the Forza Italia party, campaigns.
Silvio Berlusconi, leader of the Forza Italia party, campaigns.

Voters in Italy are going to the polls to determine a new parliament, with populist and far-right parties, including three-time Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's coalition, and a center-left alliance looking to win the right to form a new government.

Analysts have said the voting on March 4 could result in a draw between the antiestablishment 5-Star Movement, the antimigrant League Party, Berlusconi's Forza Italia (Go Italy), and the Democratic Party.

The 81-year-old Berlusconi is not allowed to run for office because of a tax-fraud conviction. But he is looking to play a key role in a future government behind European Parliament President Antonio Tajani, his nominee for prime minister.

His uneasy four-party coalition also includes the League Party, formerly known as the Northern League; the smaller Brothers of Italy; and a tiny new group, the We're With Italy party.

Tajani will battle coalition partner Matteo Salvini, 43, leader of the right-wing League Party, for dominance of Italy's center-right bloc and the right to be nominated as prime minister.

Salvini has never held public office in Italy, but has served since 2004 as a deputy in the European Parliament, despite displaying anti-EU sentiment over the years.

He has allied himself with France's far-right leader, Marine Le Pen, and has praised Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The Democratic Party’s Matteo Renzi rose from mayor of Florencer to the prime minister’s post in 2014, but he resigned in 2016. During his rise, he alienated many left-leaning party members with his effort to push the party to the center.

Luigi Di Maio, 31, leads the populist 5-Star Movement, which was founded by comedian Beppe Grillo and has said it will not form a coalition with other parties to form a government.

If no party gains an overall majority, they may attempt to form futher alliances, or President Sergio Mattarella could establish a temporary government and call for new elections.

Final pre-election polls showed Berlusconi's coalition in the lead with 37 percent, including 17 percent for Forza Italia and 13 percent for the League Party.

The 5-Star Movement had 28 percent, while the center-left coalition had 27 percent, including 23 percent for the Democratic Party.

The campaign has been marred by clashes between far-right and antifascist activists.

With reporting by AP, AFP, and Bloomberg