The leader of the Italian center left Democratic Party (PD) Pier Luigi Bersani addresses his supporters during an electoral rally with Democratic Party (PD) in Naples on February 21, 2013. Austerity-hit Italians take to the polls next week on February 24 and 25, with Bersani leading the fray against Silvio Berlusconi in a vote that could prove crucial for the future of the eurozone. AFP PHOTO / MARIO LAPORTA (Photo credit should read MARIO LAPORTA/AFP/Getty Images)
Italy's parliamentary paralysis?
03:57 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

Results for the Senate showed the center-left winning with 31.63% of the vote

"It's by no means done, but it is exceptional," an analyst says

Bad weather is being blamed in part for low voter turnout

The center-left coalition headed by Pier Luigi Bersani won by a narrow margin in Italy’s lower house of parliament, according to final figures released by the Interior Ministry.

Bersani’s coalition won 29.54% of the vote cast for the lower house, less than half a percentage point more than the center-right coalition headed by controversial three-time Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, which garnered 29.18% of the vote.

Final results showed the center-left winning the Senate with 31.63% of the vote, compared with the center-right’s 30.72% – an outcome that points to stalemate because of the way Senate seats are distributed.

Can the anti-Berlusconi pull Italy out of the mire?

“It’s by no means done, but it is exceptional. This is the first time ever that Italy has had a hung parliament,” said James Walston, a professor at The American University of Rome, before the final results.

“The center-left was not able to put forward a clear picture; they lack leadership. And Berlusconi, who was trailing way behind before Christmas, ended up putting together, reconstituting, a new center-right coalition,” he said.

Voter turnout was lower than anticipated on Sunday, the first day of balloting, down from 62.55% in 2008 to 55.17% this year, the state-run ANSA news agency reported.

Weather, in part, appeared to cause the lower voter turnout, the news agency said. It was snowing in portions of northern Italy and raining in the southern part of the country.

Who are the candidates?

Polls are banned within two weeks of the elections, but the most recent ones had Bersani holding onto a slender lead over Berlusconi. Grillo was a distant third.

All the candidates, with the exception of Grillo, cast their ballots Sunday, ANSA reported.

Italy’s political system encourages the forming of alliances.

Beppe Grillo: Clown prince of Italian politics

For example, the Democratic Party has teamed with the more left-wing Left Ecology Freedom party. The center-left alliance is dominated by the Democratic Party, led by Bersani.

The 61-year-old Bersani comes across as “bluff and homespun, and that’s part of his appeal – or not, depending on your point of view,” said political analyst James Walston, department chair of international relations at the American University of Rome.

He described Bersani, a former communist, as a “revised apparatchik,” saying the reform-minded socialist was paradoxically “far more of a free marketeer than even people on the right.”

At second place in the polls is the center-right alliance led by Berlusconi’s PdL, in coalition with the right-wing, anti-immigration Northern League.

Berlusconi has given conflicting signals as to whether he is running for the premiership, indicating that he would seek the job if his coalition won, but contradicting that on other occasions.

The septuagenarian playboy billionaire nicknamed “Il Cavaliere” has been campaigning as a Milan court weighs his appeal against a tax fraud conviction, for which he was sentenced to four years in jail last year. The verdict will be delivered after the elections; however, under the Italian legal system, he is entitled to a further appeal in a higher court.

Because the case dates to July 2006, the statute of limitations will expire this year, meaning there is a good chance none of the defendants will serve any prison time.

Why are elections taking place now?

Italian parliamentarians are elected for five-year terms, with the current one due to end in April.

But in December, Berlusconi’s People of Freedom Party (PdL) withdrew its support from the reformist government led by Mario Monti, saying it was pursuing policies that “were too German-centric.”

Monti subsequently resigned, and the parliament was dissolved.

CNN’s Barbie Latza Nadeau, Hada Messia and Becky Anderson reported from Rome. Laura Smith-Spark wrote and reported in London. Mark Thompson also contributed to this report from London.