Voting has now closed in Italy, in one of the most uncertain elections in recent memory.
Early exit polls say a hung parliament is likely, with ex-PM Silvio Berlusconi’s centre-right coalition set to win the most seats.
The anti-establishment 5-Star Movement is in second place according to exit polls, and could be the largest single party with about 30% of votes.
The country’s ruling centre-left Democratic Party stands in third place.
The centre-right bloc includes Mr Berlusconi’s Forza Italia (Go Italy!) party, the eurosceptic League, and Brothers of Italy. Exit polls suggest it could get between 225 and 265 seats – below the absolute majority of 316 required to govern.
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Mr Berlusconi, 81, cannot hold public office himself until next year due to a tax fraud conviction.
The four-time prime minister – who has allied himself with the anti-immigrant League party – has backed European Parliament President Antonio Tajani as his choice to lead the country.
Italy has seen a divisive election campaign dominated by concerns over immigration and the economy.
Officials at 19:00 (18:00 GMT) said that voter turnout stood at more than 58%, with several hours still to go.
Long queues were seen at voting centres around the country, with residents in Rome being asked to turn up well before polls closed at 23:00 (22:00 GMT) to make sure they had time to cast their ballot.
The delays are thought to have been caused by a new voting system and new in-depth, anti-fraud checks.
In Palermo, Sicily, 200,000 ballots had to be reprinted because of errors, which led to a delay in some polls opening.
What are the key issues?
More than 600,000 migrants have made the treacherous journey from Libya across the Mediterranean to reach Italy since 2013.
The huge number of arrivals has upset many Italians – with politicians, including from the mainstream, toughening their rhetoric as a result.
Mr Berlusconi has called the presence of illegal migrants a “social time-bomb” and pledges mass deportations.
The campaign has seen violent clashes between far-right supporters and anti-fascist protesters.
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Italy’s economy has started to expand once again but nearly 10 years on from the global financial crisis, Italy’s gross domestic product – or total economic output – remains 5.7% lower than pre-crisis levels.
In 2016, some 18 million people were at risk of poverty, and unemployment is at 11%.
Economic policy has been a key battleground but observers say they have heard more from parties about pensioners than youths, which could be due to young voters’ high vote abstention rates.
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Why is this election important?
Italy is the EU’s fourth-largest economy and the potential gains by populist and far-right parties is a major concern in some European capitals and in Brussels.
Contenders have lined up to blame EU budget rules for hampering economic recovery. Five Star and the League had promised to hold a referendum to leave the euro but dropped that rhetoric.
- The anti-establishment Five Star party was founded in 2009 by comedian Beppe Grillo, who denounced cronyism in Italian politics. Current leader Luigi Di Maio has pledged a universal basic income scheme
- Silvio Berlusconi has brought his centre-right Forza Italia into alliance with the anti-immigrant League and far-right Brothers of Italy. Although Mr Berlusconi has backed Mr Tajani, League leader Matteo Salvini also has prime ministerial ambitions
- Matteo Renzi’s Democratic Party has partnered with three smaller parties to form a centre-left, pro-EU bloc that has staked its campaign on proposals to revive the economy. Mr Renzi resigned as PM in December 2016
When will we know the result?
Official results are expect in the early hours of Monday.
More on Italy’s vote:
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