by Wang Hongjiang
BRUSSELS, Feb. 24 (Xinhua) -- Italians started a two-day polling process on Sunday in order to produce a new government to lead Italy out of an economic slump.
The voting across Italy will finish at 3 p.m. local time (1400 GMT) on Monday. Initial results are expected in the early evening, according to media reports.
The election, unlike the previous ones, is taking place amid a deep recession in about two decades and austerity measures that have caused widespread public sentiment in the eurozone's third-largest economy.
The members in the eurozone are paying highly attention to the election, awaiting a strong Italian government capable of firm action, which could prevent the looming Greek-style scenario in the country, media reports said.
The centre-left Democratic Party (PD) led by Pier Luigi Bersani was thought to be a few points ahead of the centre-right bloc led by ex-Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, according to estimates published before a ban on polls two weeks ago, with a centrist coalition led by outgoing Prime Minister Mario Monti is also running in the election.
Bersani vowed to remain committed to budget discipline, which was introduced by outgoing Monti and hailed by the economic community.
However, Berlusconi, the four-time Prime Minister and also a media magnate, has promised to repay a widely scolded housing tax and launched a media blitz in a bid to win back voters.
What makes the election forecast even more complicated is the country's third-largest electoral force -- the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, led by comedian-turned politician Beppe Grillo.
Threatening to hold a referendum on abandoning the euro during pre-election promises, Grillo have also criticized Italian mainstream politicians, claiming that they "have consumed the entire country."
Italy's electoral system was also a major concern. The lower house of the parliament will be controlled by the party which wins majority in the national popular vote, while the seats of the upper house will be distributed on a region-by region basis, giving rise to opposing forces gaining control of the two chambers.
Whatsoever, the outcome is all at the hands of some 47 million Italian voters, whose votes will influence the future of Italy and, in a sense, the future of the eurozone.