The Five Star Movement, founded by a comic, Beppe Grillo, and by the-now deceased Gianroberto Casaleggio, whose son Davide has emerged as the party’s shadow puppeteer, is expected to garner 27 percent, according to polls, the most of any single party. The anti-establishment and populist movement has capitalized on widespread disaffection for Italy’s traditional parties.
The main issues and promises
Though Italy has one of the lowest percentages of migrants per capita in Europe, immigration has emerged as the campaign’s major theme. The issue has been highlighted further by an act of violence last month: the shooting of six African migrants by a right-wing sympathizer who ran with the League in a local election.
Candidates across the political spectrum have played up fears of immigrants in Italy, a country that has struggled with a wave of people arriving by the Mediterranean in search of a better life. Recent polls indicated that 70 percent of Italians were concerned about safety, partly because of fears of undocumented migrants.
Another major concern is the economy. Even as Italy saw a slight uptick in growth over the past year, national debt is at 130 percent of gross domestic product, the second highest level in the euro area, after Greece. But campaign speeches have mostly steered clear of any belt-tightening measures that might be required to lower that debt.
Fiscal promises have nevertheless blossomed during the campaign, including the League and Forza Italia’s proposal for a single income and corporate tax rate of 23 percent, the Democrats’ tax breaks for families, and Five Star’s guaranteed minimum income for millions of Italians.
Some Italians see the European Union’s budget deficit limit of 3 percent of gross domestic product as one of the major factors dragging down the economy, as it affects spending. Support for the bloc’s common currency is among the lowest in Europe, and there is a lingering nostalgia for the lira, which some parties, including Forza Italia, have considered reintroducing.
Italians generally vote in large numbers: Turnout was 75 percent in 2013 and 80 percent in 2008. But polls suggest there will be higher abstention on Sunday than in previous elections, except among those who back the Five Star Movement. The number of undecided voters has reached a record high, estimated at 30 percent to 40 percent, with many women among them.
The polls are open from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Sunday, and voters can cast ballots for a candidate, a party or coalition. The vote will determine the 945 members of Parliament as well as the party or coalition that will run the country for the next five years.
What happens after the election
Preliminary results based on exit polls will be released on national television and news websites after the polls close late Sunday. Official results will be available on Monday.
But it will take weeks before the next Italian government is sworn in. The new Parliament will hold its first session on March 23 and will vote to elect the speakers of the Lower House and the Senate, a first litmus test to gauge the political majority.
After that, Italy’s president, Sergio Mattarella, will start consultations to see which party or grouping in Parliament has the consensus to win a confidence vote.
After hearing from the parties, Mr. Mattarella will ask a lawmaker to try to form a government.
If no clear winner, with a certain majority, emerges from the election, Mr. Mattarella could confer an “exploratory mandate” to a lawmaker, or even the speakers of the two houses, to see if a broad coalition might be possible.
In case of a stalemate, the president could envision a nonelected person chosen on the basis of expertise in forming a government. That cabinet would still need to win a vote of confidence in Parliament.
Once the president has nominated a prime minister, the new government can be sworn in and face a vote of confidence in both houses.