As Italians went to bed on Monday 10 April there was the possibility that they might wake with the centre-right Casa delle Libert coalition, led by Silvio Berlusconi, back in control of the senate, and the centre-left LUnione, headed by Romano Prodi, in the majority of the chamber of deputies.

What looked like being a clear victory for the LUnione early on Monday afternoon according to the first exit pools, by night fall had turned into what was heading for one of the most closely run elections in decades.

By the end of a difficult day the election was hanging on returns from Lazio, expected to go for the centre-right, Campania looking as though it would decide in favour for the centre-left and Piedmont leaning to the right.

If each house of parliament were to end under the control of a different coalition there would be considerable difficulty selecting a new government. Whatever the final outcome it was clear by the end of Monday that the country was seriously divided, that Italy would be heading for a period of political uncertainty and that any answers to its pressing economic and social problems would now be even more difficult to find than before.