As if Fashion Week and the historic final appearance of a retiring pope weren’t enough to keep Italy on its toes, the country is also preparing to head to the polls as the future of the country’s political leadership hangs in the balance.

Religious pomp and haute couture aside, Italians are entering a two-day election period and appear poised to welcome a new prime minister: Polls indicate centre-left candidate Pier Luigi Bersani is favoured to overtake former PM Silvio Berlusconi.

According to polls, roughly a third of Italians said they would support Bersani, while the centre-right coalition led by Berlusconi sat second in the polls with 28 per cent. Current premier Mario Monti’s centrist coalition trailed with 13 per cent of voters.

The general election is the first time Italians are set to vote for a new government since Berlusconi, plagued by scandal and legal troubles, stepped down over a year ago.

After a Milan court found him guilty of tax fraud in October, Berlusconi announced he would seek office again, after initially saying otherwise.

While Europe’s eyes are on the perceived race between Bersani and Berlusconi, anti-establishment candidate Beppe Grillo and his Five Star Movement has been taking Italy by storm in recent weeks and therefore shouldn’t be discounted, Geoff Andrews, author of “Not a Normal Country: Italy after Berlusconi” said Saturday.

“He’s really challenging the political class, appealing in particular, to young voters and he could make a difference,” Andrews told CTV’s News Channel.

Both the country and the European Union are keeping a close eye on the election as voters head to the polls against a backdrop of sustained and widespread economic turmoil.

Andrews said finances will be a key issue, as voters and the European Union look at how a leader can re-establish competitiveness and stimulate growth in the Italian economy.

Current Prime Minister Monti established himself among European leaders as someone who could lead amid a Eurozone crisis. Andrews said he made positive moves toward pension reforms and dealing with tax evasion, however, he trails heavily in the polls.

European leaders are expecting a clear majority, Andrews said.

“I think what they prefer is a centre-left majority, supported by Mario Monti.”