Italy elections: Thousands queue to vote in election seen ending in political gridlock

Rome: Italians waited in long queues at polling booths on Sunday to vote in an election that could bring political gridlock after a campaign marked by anger over the listless economy, high unemployment and immigration.
Pollsters have predicted that former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s centre-right party and his far-right allies will emerge as the largest bloc in parliament but fall short of a majority.
The anti-establishment 5-Star Movement looks set to be the biggest single party, feeding off discontent over entrenched corruption and growing poverty, while the ruling centre-left bloc led by the Democratic Party (PD) is seen in third place.
At Berlusconi’s voting station in Milan, a Femen activist bared her chest in front of the former premier and shouted, “time’s up” before being hauled away.
“She passed so quickly I didn’t get a chance to see her,” quipped Berlusconi, who has a history of being caught up in sex scandals.
Berlusconi also said he was concerned about the queues.
“There will be queues as well this evening. I am worried that there might be some situations in which some people will not be able to vote,” he said.
In Rome, many stood in line for more than an hour before voting. City hall invited the capital’s residents to show up well before polls close at 2300 (2200 GMT) so they can be sure of voting.
The turnout by noon was a little more than 19 percent. That was higher than five years ago, when Italians voted over two days, but slightly lower than a 2016 referendum in which the final turnout exceeded 68 percent.
An increase in morning turnout in the south compared with the 2016 referendum is a good sign for 5-Star, said pollster and data analysis group YouTrend, while a fall in the PD’s central Italian strongholds was a bad omen for the party.
Heavily indebted Italy is the third-largest economy in the 19-member euro zone and, though investors have been sanguine ahead of the ballot, prolonged political stalemate could reawaken the threat of market instability.
Exit polls are due out immediately after voting ends. The election is being held under a complex new electoral law that could mean the final result will not be clear until late on Monday.
Confusion over the new system led to 200,000 ballot papers having to be reprinted overnight in Palermo, where some polling stations delayed opening amid protests from voters. There were also reports of misprinted ballots at one polling booth in Rome.
The campaign has marked the return to frontline politics of 81-year-old Berlusconi, who was forced to quit as prime minister in 2011 at the height of a sovereign debt crisis and was widely written off after sex scandals, legal woes and ill health.
A 2013 conviction for tax fraud means he cannot hold public office and he has put forward Antonio Tajani, president of the European Parliament, as his candidate for prime minister.