24 Feb 2013

Italian election polls open

9:48 pm on 24 February 2013

Polls have opened in one of Italy's most closely watched general elections for years.

It's the first vote since former Premier, Silvio Berlusconi, was forced out of office and an unelected government of technocrats was asked to take power in 2011.

Estimates published before a ban on polls took effect two weeks ago gave a lead to Pier Luigi Bersani's centre-left alliance, which was thought to be a few points ahead of the centre-right bloc led by Mr Berlusconi.

A centrist coalition led by outgoing Prime Minister Mario Monti is also running.

The election was called two months ahead of schedule, after Mr Berlusconi's party withdrew its support for Mr Monti's government.

The BBC reports the voting is taking place amid a deep recession and austerity measures that have caused widespread public resentment.

It is also being closely watched in the eurozone, with the Italian government's future commitment to austerity measures particularly under scrutiny.

On the first voting day on Sunday, polls across Italy opened at 8am and will close at 10pm.

The voting will resume again on Monday at 8am and finish at 3pm. First results are expected in the early evening.