As news of Prodi’s narrow victory filtered out, took to the streets of Milan, Italy’s business capital, to survey the city’s mood after a night of great drama.

Dolores, an English woman resident in Italy for more than 35 years, said: “I am happy the centre-left won, but I must say that the situation doesn’t look very encouraging.”

“The two sides will be moaning and groaning for the next month. I also expect that Berlusconi will say the election was rigged,” she commented.

Andrea, a student who voted for the centre-left, was disappointed with Prodi’s weak majority: “Berlusconi didn’t lose and Prodi didn’t win. Now Italy will be in a mess for the next five years, because the left has a weak majority and a weak coalition. This will make everything harder for Prodi to rule.”

Many Milanese founded it unfair that votes coming from abroad determined the results.

A banker, a supporter of the centre-right who didn’t want to reveal his name, said: “People who don’t live in Italy shouldn’t have the right to vote in general elections.”

Lidia, an elderly woman, agreed: “It is crazy that people who don’t live here have determined who will govern the country where I live. It’s a scandal.”

Some supporters of the centre-left held a different opinion. Laura, a young woman, said: “Italians living abroad are always Italians and it’s fair that they voted.”

She added: “Many people are living abroad because of the economic recession caused by the Berlusconi government. These people voted Prodi in the hope that the current economic situation will change.”

Many Milanese are eager to hear details of the centre-left’s tax plans.

Alberto, the owner of a travel agency, said: “I’m sure the communists will reintroduce a thousand new taxes. I expect inheritance tax and higher housing taxes to be introduced immediately. I’m terrified.”

Agense, a housekeeper, was of the opposite opinion: “I hope Prodi keeps his promises: raise taxes for the rich and reduce them for the poor. Then I will be happy.”

With the result so close, many saw the lack of a clear mandate as a real problem. Eddy, a young lawyer, called for a new election. “The situation is intolerable,” he said.

Many voters blamed the new electoral system.

Titti, a young woman, commented: “We need two main changes now: First, go back to a majority system; second - kick out both Prodi and Berlusconi.”

Another Milanese rushing to work agreed. “The electoral system confused everybody and is the cause of the stalemate. Berlusconi changed the system on purpose to create the situation we find ourselves in at the moment.”

Fabio, a banker, said: “The saddest fact of this election is that Italy is divided. There are two sides and they are not ready to talk to each other.”

He blamed the vicious electoral campaign: “In the 1970s when Andreotti [former Christian Democrat prime minister] and Berlinguer [former leader of the Italian Communist Party] went on TV debates they respected each other and the confrontation was political - and not based on who insulted the other more.”

Antonio, a young man originally from the south of Italy and a Berlusconi supporter, said: “I can’t believe what happened - he is like a father for me”.

Sunil and Perera, two immigrants from Sri Lanka who could not vote, were enthusiastic about the centre-left’s victory in the lower house. “Berlusconi is bad and Prodi is good,” they said simultaneously.

Sunil explained his preference: “Berlusconi and his Northern League allies want us out of Italy, but we are here to work and Prodi understands that.”

Marta, a young Berlusconi supporter, maintained the prime minister was still a strong leader. “Although we lost a considerable number of votes compared with the 2001 general elections, Forza Italia is still the biggest party in Italy.”

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