Auteur: | By Aleander Balzan
Centre-left coalition leader Romano Prodi i has claimed victory in Italy's general elections.
Addressing his supporters in Rome at 3am on Tuesday, Mr Prodi said "We have won. We have to start working to unite Italy. Now we have to focus in order to change Italy. We have to start growing again."
Piero Fassino, secretary of the left democrats in Italy, a party which is part of Prodi's coalition, also claimed victory for the left.
"The numbers are now nearly complete, and they show that the centre left won the elections," said Mr Fassino.
But prime minister Silvio Berlusconi and his allies are disputing the claim and have called for a careful checking of the votes.
"The margin is under 25,000 votes. Such a tiny difference requires a scrupulous checking of the counting "said Paolo Bonauiti, a spokesperson for Mr Berlusconi.
Reacting to the centre-left claim of victory, Minister Claudio Scajola who is also a member of Forza Italia said "This is intolerable".
"Self-proclamation of victory is constitutionally illegitimate" added Mr Scajola.
Reports in the Italian media say that while Mr Prodi's coalition won the majority in parliament, the centre-right obtained a one-seat majority in the senate.
The newspapers also say that the almost final results show that Mr Prodi's centre-left coalition won 49.8 % of the vote to Mr Berlusconi's 49.7 %.
The difference is minimal - amounting to some 25,224 votes - but thanks to the new electoral system, this difference will mean 63 more deputies for Mr Prodi's coalition.
Under the new electoral system the winners of the election are automatically granted 340 seats out of the 630 seats Parliament.
This means it is expected that the centre left will obtain 340 seats against 277 for the centre-right
In the senate, the centre-right coalition won 155 seats while the centre-left won 154 seats making the results of the expatriate vote crucial.
Italian expatriates will elect six senators and 12 deputies in parliament for the first time.
The latest results demonstrate that once again, the Italian exit polls were wrong.
On Monday (10 April) exit polls indicated a 5 % lead for Romano Prodi's coalition both in parliament and in the senate.
More detailed and clear results are expected during the course of Tuesday morning.