Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni casts his vote at a polling station in Rome, Italy, March 4, 2018. Italians started to cast their ballots Sunday morning leading to the election of a prime minister, two days after politicians made their final campaign for the general election. (Xinhua/Jin Yu)
ROME, March 4 (Xinhua) -- Italian voters headed to the voting booth Sunday to elect their representatives in parliament for a five-year term under the country's brand-new electoral law.
This closely-watched election has been described in international media as the next big test for the European Union (EU) due to rising populist and nationalist sentiment in Italy, which has borne the brunt of the migrant crisis while grappling with a sluggish economic recovery and persistent high unemployment hovering at 11 percent.
As of 12:00 noon local time, 19.38 percent of some 46 million voters had turned out, according to a running tally on the interior ministry website. A further 4 million Italians residing abroad also have the right to vote, electing 12 members of the Lower House and 6 senators.
Voters told TV reporters they had to wait up to an hour in line due to a new anti-voter fraud system, which slowed down operations at the polls in Italy's 7,958 municipalities.
Italians are being called on to choose their representatives in the 315-member Senate and the 630-seat Lower House under a new system that is one-third majority and two-thirds proportional -- meaning that no single party or coalition is likely to win enough seats to claim an absolute majority.
This means that after Sunday's vote, the different political forces will have to work together to reach a compromise and form a government. This may be a tough call, as the major players have taken pains to assure their potential voters they will never make deals with parties whose positions differ from their own.
The contest is among three main forces: the populist Five Star Movement, a center-right coalition led by media mogul and ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi, and the center-left Democratic Party of outgoing Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni.
Italy's last general election was held in February 2013, when over 75 percent of 46.9 million voters turned out to hand a victory to the center-left Democratic Party in the Lower House and a slim majority in the Senate.
During the Sunday election, polls opened from 7am until 11pm across the Italy. The first exit polls are expected to be published around midnight and the votes will be fully counted in the early Monday morning local time.