Opinion polls suggest Italians are poised to vote their first far-right government into power since World War II.
Italians have voted in an election that could move the country’s politics sharply toward the right during a critical time for Europe, with war in Ukraine fuelling skyrocketing energy bills and testing the West's resolve to stand united against Russia.
Polls opened at 0500 GMT (7 am local) on Sunday and by 1000 GMT (noon local) turnout was equal to or slightly less than at the same time during Italy's last general election in 2018.
The counting of paper ballots was expected to begin shortly after they close at 2100 GMT (11 pm local), with projections based on partial results coming early Monday morning.
Publication of opinion polls is banned in the two weeks leading up to the election, but polls before that showed far-right leader Giorgia Meloni and her Brothers of Italy party, with its extreme right roots, the most popular.
That suggested Italians were poised to vote their first far-right government into power since World War II. Close behind was former Premier Enrico Letta and his centre-left Democratic Party.
“Today you can help write history,” Meloni tweeted on Sunday morning.
Letta, for his part, tweeted a photo of himself at the ballot box. “Have a good vote!” he wrote.
READ MORE: Far-right amalgam seen as likely winner as Italy votes
Low turnout expected
Meloni is part of a right-wing alliance with anti-migrant League leader Matteo Salvini and Silvio Berlusconi, the three-time premier who heads the Forza Italia party he created three decades ago.
Italy’s complex electoral law rewards campaign coalitions, meaning the Democrats are disadvantaged since they failed to secure a similarly broad alliance with left-leaning populists and centrists.
If Meloni becomes premier, she will be the first woman in Italy to hold the office. But assembling a viable, ruling coalition could take weeks.
Nearly 51 million Italians were eligible to vote. Pollsters, though, predicted turnout could be even lower than the record-setting low of 73 percent in the last general election in 2018.
They say despite Europe’s many crises, many voters feel alienated from politics, since Italy has had three coalition governments since the last election — each led by someone who hadn’t run for office.
Elections are being held six months early after Mario Draghi’s pandemic unity government collapsed in late July. Italy’s president, Sergio Mattarella, saw no alternative but to have voters elect a new Parliament.
READ MORE: Italy's undecideds: Can they reverse far-right's electoral gains on Sunday?