Euro edges up in choppy trade after Italian exit polls

Italians headed to the polls overnight NZT in a widely watched vote that will offer a measure of the power of the anti-establishment populists who have been campaigning against traditional parties across Europe.

Exit polls in Italy are not always entirely reliable - but if they prove correct, the center-right coalition brokered by former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi will have the most seats in parliament.

People vote in the general election at a polling station on March 4, 2018 in Milan, Italy. Italy's establishment parties are struggling to match that performance following years of lackluster growth and widespread concern about immigration.

Changes to Italy's election laws a year ago necessitated a new kind of ballot, one that some experts warn might confuse voters and result in a high percentage of invalid ballots. Current Democratic Premier Paolo Gentiloni is considered by many a more palatable candidate.

The governing Democratic Party has seen its support slide over the course of the campaign and its leader, Renzi, told newspaper La Repubblica Italy risks "an extremist government" of Five Star, the League and the far-right Brothers of Italy unless his party comes first. Their hard-to-categorise policies are determined by an unusual system of direct online voting among their party members, and they have not taken clear stances on some of main issues facing Italy in the world, such as European Union integration and the future of economic sanctions against Russian Federation.

The new law calls for roughly a third of the seats to be selected by the direct "first-past-the-post" system, with the remainder selected by proportional outcomes divided among allied parties and coalitions.

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In the likely event of a hung parliament, there are several parliamentary combinations that could be cobbled together to win a majority of seats, many of which would pair unlikely bedfellows.

Of the 630 seats in lower house of Parliament - the Chamber of Deputies - 232 will be elected through FPTP, and 386 through PR. If a party gets more than 1 percent but less than 3 percent, that party's vote goes to the coalition it has joined, assuming it joined a coalition before the election. But roughly a third of those queried said they hadn't decided who would get their vote or if they would vote at all.

The largest single vote-getter was expected to be the populist Five Star Movement, which has about a 28 per cent share of the opinion polls.

The 5-Stars have sworn they won't form coalitions, though Di Maio has hinted he would be willing to talk to other political forces. But there remained an outside chance that the polls could be underestimating the support for the far-right party, and that its youthful leader, Matteo Salvini, could actually prevail atop the coalition. The next prime minister will have to win votes of confidence in both houses of parliament.

President Sergio Mattarella is due to begin formal discussions with party leaders from early April before picking a candidate he believes can command a majority.

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