Italian elections too close to call?

The AP says it’s too close to call. Who will win, Berlusconi or Prodi? Who should? Where will Italy go from here - and are we in for another long bout of political instability?

Reminds me of the old joke: an Italian parliamentarian dozes off as debate drones on and on. He awakes, glances at his watch and realizes he’s been asleep for almost an hour. He asks the guy next to him if he missed anything.

The other guy shrugs. “Not much. But you were prime minister - twice.”

The Italian constitutionnal system has been overhauled many years ago. This joke really isn’t meaningfull nowadays.

It’s still very close, but sure looks like Berlusconi is losing. For the lower house both sides got almost 19 million votes, but Prodi is winning by just 27 000, which should be enough. For the upper house it still doesn’t look as good, but the left is hopeful. If Prodi’s Union can get the senators elected abroad, which is likely, then the right loses both chambers. And I’m very happy to see Berlusconi finally go.

Any sources on how the Italians abroad tended to vote in previous elections, compared with the general electorate?

Can someone give a primer on how the process works? Is it similar to the British system where the party with the most seats in Parliament gets to form the government? And what voting method(s) is/are used? Paper ballots? Punchcards?

Yes, Italy is a parliamentary democracy, similar to the UK. The president has mostly a protocolar job and the government is voted in by the parliament.

Now, AFAIK (because I might be mistaken, I’m a long wy from being familiar with the Italian electoral system) :

For a long time, Italy didn’t have a “first past the post” (I believe it’s the correct english name) system. As a result, Italy had a large number of parties represented in the parliament, and the governments were formed by coalitions of parties (like in Israel) that were necessary to form a majority, which resulted in very unstable governments (alliances could change in-between elections, a particular issue could divide the parties making up the government, etc…). A dozen years ago or so, this was replaced, if I’m not mistaken, by a first past the post system, but Italy still had more parties of significant importance represented in the parliament than in the UK, hence still used coalition government (for instance Berlusconi has been allied with the “Northern League” that wants to split up from southern Italy, and with a party that was formerly neo-fascist).

I explained this because Italy has a reputation of extreme political unstability that doesn’t really apply anymore.
Right before the elections, Berlusconi changed the electoral law, and if I understand correctly, for the first time, people voted for a list presented by each party at the national level (instead of electing a MP in each circonscription). The list with the most vote will get at least half the seats, and the rest of the seats will be attributed proportionnally to the votes, which is a rather unusual electoral system. Officially it has been devised to ensure a stable majority, but Berlusconi’s party didn’t really hide that they expected it to be more advantageous for him for some reason (maybe the left is more divided and he expected that the largest leftist party was less likely to have more votes than his own. Only a wild guess). The senate will be elected in the same way, except that it will be regional lists instead of national lists Also, the senate has mostly the same powers as the lower chamber, contrarily to what generally happens in unitarian (as opposed to federal) democracies. I suspect this is intended to satisfy Berlusconi’s allies from the Northern League.

As for the voting method, they use paper ballots. From what I watched on TV, electors are handed a rather large sheet of paper divided in small squares with a symbol and party name on each. They seem then to put a rather small ballot in the ballot box. So, I suspect (but it’s a wild guess) that the small squares are actually stickers, that the voter picks one and stick it on some paper ballot.

Update: Prodi is now claiming victory – but his coalition’s margin for the lower house is only 25,000 votes, and Berlusconi’s coalition is demanding a recount.

This just in - CNN is calling the country of Italy for Al Gore.

Katherine Harris is packing her bags and booking a flight on Air Italia as we speak…

Berlusconi is still refusing to admit defeat:

Berlusconi is still refusing to admit defeat and is alleging irregularities:

Now the Italian supreme court has called the election for Prodi . . . and Berlusconi’s coalition still refuses to admit defeat.

(Kinda wish Al Gore had had that kinda balls in 2000 . . . or Kerry in '04 . . .)