ROME (REUTERS) - Polling stations opened for the first day of voting on Sunday in an election to choose a successor to the technocrat government of Mr Mario Monti, appointed just over a year ago to save Italy from financial crisis.
Voting began at 8am local time and the first exit polls for both the lower house and Senate are expected after 3pm on Monday (10.00pm on Monday, Singapore time).
The election, in the middle of a deep recession, is being closely watched by financial markets amid concern that it may fail to produce a clear winner capable of continuing the broad course of budget discipline and economic reform begun by Mr Monti and backed by Italy's European partners.
The last opinion polls published before a pre-election blackout two weeks ago put a centre-left coalition led by Mr Pier Luigi Bersani in the lead, although former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi had been closing the gap.
Uncertainty over the result has been increased by a surge in support for the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement of comedian Beppe Grillo, who has ridden a wave of public anger against corruption and privilege in Italy's political elite.