Italy's centre-left opposition has taken parliament's lower house but whether it wins control of the country depends on how Italians living abroad voted.This content was published on April 11, 2006 - 08:05
Among them are 375,000 nationals of voting age, who reside in Switzerland.
On Tuesday, a day after the polls closed in Italy, results showed that the alliance of former Prime Minister Romano Prodi had won the Chamber of Deputies with 49.8 per cent of the vote.
This was the narrowest of margins over current Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's conservative allies, who garnered 49.7 per cent.
According to a recently passed law, the winning coalition automatically wins 55 per cent of the seats, or 340 seats.
It was a different story for the Senate - Berlusconi's alliance held a one-seat lead (155 to Prodi's 154 seats) but the votes cast by Italians living abroad for six seats were still being counted on Tuesday morning.
This did not prevent Prodi from claiming that his allies had won the elections outright.
"We have won and now we have to start working to implement our programme and unify the country," he told supporters early on Tuesday morning.
Participation in the election was massive - more than 83 per cent of the electorate voted.
For the first time, Italians abroad could not only vote in home elections without having to travel to Italy, they could also stand for election themselves.
They were allocated 12 seats (out of 630) in the Chamber of Deputies and six in the Senate (from 315).
Swiss residents are well represented among the candidates. Of the 144 people standing for election to the lower house, 25 live in Switzerland, as do 11 of the 34 vying for a Senate seat.
Some Swiss newspapers went to press as news of Prodi's victory in the House of Deputies was filtering through.
The German-language press questioned whether the country would be plunged into political instability.
The prestigious Neue Zuercher Zeitung described Berlusconi's election campaign as being "drenched in poison". It added that his behaviour during the run-up was not a form of "Italian passion" but a sign of "desperation [as] a glorious victory lay outside his grasp".
The Tages-Anzeiger said that the media magnate had managed to split the country with his campaign of fear and aggressive confrontational tactics.
The French-language Le Temps stressed that it was irrelevant which alliance won the vote as the country was already severely divided.
swissinfo with agencies
3.5 million Italians living abroad are eligible to vote.
505,104 Italians live in Switzerland including those with dual nationality, the largest foreign community.
374,680 have voting rights.
There are two million Italians across Europe.
South America: 885,673.
Central and North America: 403,597.
Africa, Asia, Oceania and Antarctica: 192,390.
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