Pier Luigi Bersani may be the next prime minister of Italy, if preliminary election results hold up. And a surprisingly strong protest vote against establishment candidates makes a comic turned politician head of the third largest party in the country.
The centre left is strongly leading in Italy's election, 5-6 percentage points ahead of the centre right of former premier Silvio Berlusconi, according to two telephone polls of voters.
However the Senate, elected on a region-by-region basis, is more complicated and the result could turn on a handful of regions, including Lombardy in the rich industrial north and the southern island of Sicily.
A poll for Sky television published after voting ended at 1400 GMT (9 a.m ET), showed the anti-establishment protest movement of Beppe Grillo taking third place.
It showed the centre left ahead by 5.5 points in the lower house and by six points in the Senate although the result there will depend on key battleground regions. In the most important, Lombardy, Sky said the centre left was tied with Berlusconi.
Sky had the centre left of Pier Luigi Bersani on 34.5 percent, Berlusconi's centre right on 29 percent, Grillo on 19 percent and Monti slumping to 9.5 percent after a lackluster centrist campaign that deeply disappointed his backers among foreign governments and investors.
A phone poll for RAI state television showed a similar line-up with the centre left six points ahead of Berlusconi in the lower house.
The spread between Italy's benchmark 10-year bonds and the German equivalent narrowed to 260 basis points after the poll results in a sign of investor optimism that the centre left will be able to form a stable, pro-reform government.
The picture could change after computer projections of the result in both houses which are expected after 1500 GMT/ 10 a.m. ET.
Italy's electoral laws guarantee a strong majority in the lower house to the party or coalition that wins the biggest share of the national vote.
For a comic to beat the incumbent prime minister's party by 10 points is a shocker. It shows the level of disgust that Italians have with their political system.
Bersani is said to be a pragmatist and will carry forward with reforms initiated by Monti. But Italy is still in deep trouble as it tries to close its budget deficit while getting control of its massive public debt.