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Berlusconi ahead in Italy poll

ROME, Italy (CNN) -- Early results of Sunday's general election showed media mogul Silvio Berlusconi leading former Rome Mayor Francesco Rutelli by a small margin.

Official preliminary result showed that Berlusconi had still not mustered enough votes to reach a majority.

Results issued by Italy's Interior Ministry after one-third of the votes had been counted showed that in the Senate, the upper house of parliament, Berlusconi had a slight lead.

There were no official results available for the lower house, but unofficial exit polls indicated that Berlusconi was leading there, too.

A majority in both houses is required to rule as prime minister.

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Voter turnout exceeded 80 percent, so high that Interior Ministry officials kept polls open for an hour longer than had been planned, thereby delaying unofficial tallies of the results of the contest.

Rutelli, 46, leader of the center-left Olive Tree coalition , waited an hour before he was able to cast his ballot.

In Naples, where voters were forced to wait as much as four hours to cast their ballots, frustrated voters stormed a polling station, destroying property inside, according to state TV.

Berlusconi, a 64-year-old former prime minister and media tycoon, voted early in Milan. The center-right candidate told reporters he was confident he had done all he could to convince voters to cast their ballots for him.

If one of the coalitions fails to reach a majority in both houses, Italian President Carlo Azeglio Ciampa could call on one or both of the leaders to try to seek support outside their coalitions, and see whether one of the two could amass a majority.

Should that fail, the president could nominate a caretaker prime minister whose primary goal would be to introduce electoral reforms and continue the daily running of the government.

Final official results are not expected before Monday at noon (1100 GMT).

Regardless of who wins, little change is likely in Italy's foreign policy, said James Ralston, a professor at American University in Rome. "Italy's foreign policy these last eight years has been linked to European foreign policy," he said.

"Even with the Balkan crises, it has worked closely with the European Union, NATO and other international organizations."

Italy has had 58 administrations since the end of World War II.



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