(dpa) - Polls opened across Italy on Sunday morning for the first day of parliamentary elections.
Voting in which some 50 million Italians are eligible to cast ballots, was scheduled to continue until 10 pm (2000 GMT) and again on Monday from 8 am to 3 pm (1300 GMT).
Preliminary results were expected by Monday evening.
Centre-right opposition leader Silvio Berlusconi and former Rome mayor Walter Veltroni of the centre-left Democratic Party are the main contenders in the race which comes just two years after Italy's last parliamentary poll.
Prime Minister Romano Prodi resigned in February when his centre- left coalition lost a confidence vote in parliament's upper house, the Senate.
Analysts have cited voters' fatigue to predict a lower turnout than in 2006, when nearly 84 per cent of eligible voters cast their ballots in what turned out to be the closest election in modern Italian history.
Opinion polls published two weeks ago suggested that Berlusconi's People of Freedom Party and it allies enjoyed a lead of between six and eight per cent over Veltroni's Democratic Party.
But many observers say the gap may have narrowed since a media blackout on the publication of such polls came into force at the end of March.
And the same surveys also indicated that a third of Italians were still undecided on who to back or even whether they would participate in the election at all.