Who's going to be the next Italian leader? Here are the main contenders

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Italy Votes 2018

Who's going to be the next Italian leader? Here are the main contenders

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Market watchers and foreign politicians are carefully watching developments in Italy, where voters will elect a new prime minister and parliament on March 4.

The outcome of the vote could spark jitters among Europe in the face of rising support for populism at a time when the Italian economy is at a critical juncture.

Polls suggest that the election won't result in a majority government and political parties will have to form an alliance in order to govern.

Here are the main contenders in the Italian election and their coalition partners.

Matteo Renzi

Matteo Renzi, Secretary of the Democratic Party and former Prime Minister of Italy, speaks on stage during a meeting called '#incontramoci'.
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Matteo Renzi, Secretary of the Democratic Party and former Prime Minister of Italy, speaks on stage during a meeting called '#incontramoci'.

The leader of the center-left Democratic Party, and former prime minister, is seeking to return to power. He resigned from government back in 2016 after voters rejected his changes to the constitution. Since then, the left-leaning government has been led by caretaker Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni.

He could potentially decide to form a coalition government with the pro-European party Piu' Europa (More Europe).

Emma Bonino

Emma Bonino attends a press conference on February 20, 2018 in Milan, Italy. Bonino, leader of Piu Europa (also +Europa, 'More Europe'), a pro-Europeanist coalition of centre-left parties, is running for the Premiership at the next elections.
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Emma Bonino attends a press conference on February 20, 2018 in Milan, Italy. Bonino, leader of Piu Europa (also +Europa, 'More Europe'), a pro-Europeanist coalition of centre-left parties, is running for the Premiership at the next elections.

She's the head of the liberal party Piu' Europa and former minister of foreign affairs.

After more than 40 years in politics, Emma Bonino is one of the most famous female politicians in Italy.

Luigi di Maio

Leader of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S), Luigi Di Maio looks on during the presentation of the movement's candidates for the upcoming March general elections, on January 29, 2018, in Rome.
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Leader of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S), Luigi Di Maio looks on during the presentation of the movement's candidates for the upcoming March general elections, on January 29, 2018, in Rome.

The youngest of all contenders, Luigi di Maio heads the populist and anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S) founded by comedian Beppe Grillo.

Maio has softened the party's stance on the euro but still demands agreements with Europe to reform fiscal policies.

His party has not entered any coalition but he told CNBC that he would be willing to negotiate with other parties if the vote doesn't give a clear majority to any of the parties.

Silvio Berlusconi

Silvio Berlusconi, President of Forza Italia (Go Italy) and former Italian Prime Minister, gives a speech during a political rally on February 25, 2018 in Milan, Italy.
Emanuele Cremaschi | Getty Images
Silvio Berlusconi, President of Forza Italia (Go Italy) and former Italian Prime Minister, gives a speech during a political rally on February 25, 2018 in Milan, Italy.

Silvio Berlusconi has been prime minister of Italy three times. Despite a series of sex scandals and tax fraud convictions, the 81-year-old media mogul is once again at the center stage of Italian politics and could have a pivotal role in the upcoming general election.

He cannot become prime minister after being banned from holding public office for six years for tax fraud, although he is appealing the ruling. But as leader of Forza Italia, polls suggest that he could get more votes than Renzi and potentially more than the Five Star Movement too.

His party has joined forces with three other parties - the Northern League, Brothers of Italy and Us with Italy - increasing his chances of winning a majority.

Giorgia Meloni

Giorgia Meloni, leader of the right-wing party Fratelli d'Italia (Brothers of Italy) holds a giant Italian national flag during a political rally on February 24, 2018 in Milan, Italy.
Emanuele Cremaschi | Getty Images
Giorgia Meloni, leader of the right-wing party Fratelli d'Italia (Brothers of Italy) holds a giant Italian national flag during a political rally on February 24, 2018 in Milan, Italy.

Meloni is the leader of Brothers of Italy — a right-wing and euroskeptic party. She was minister of youth during one of Berlusconi's governments.

She's running in the aforementioned four-party, right-wing coalition.

Matteo Salvini

Matteo Salvini leader of Lega Nord party speaks during the Lega Nord demonstration in Piazza Duomo on February 24, 2018 in Milan, Italy.
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Matteo Salvini leader of Lega Nord party speaks during the Lega Nord demonstration in Piazza Duomo on February 24, 2018 in Milan, Italy.

The Italian politician has been a member of the European Parliament since 2004 and leader of the Northern League since December 2013.

Lega Nord is also a populist and euroskeptic party, also running with Berlusconi's party.