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A divided Italy goes to the polls Sunday

Europe's first major 2018 election
Europe's first major 2018 election 02:32

ROME -- Sunday is Europe's first major election of 2018: Italians go to the polls to elect a new government. The nation of 60 million is sharply divided over issues that are very familiar to American voters.

The election has one gondolier navigating politics.

"The left represents my values of inclusion," said Chiara Curto. 

"Inclusion" was a theme at a rally in Florence on Friday. Former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi took credit for his governing "Democratic Party's" role in rescuing Italy's economy -- and saving migrant's lives.

What to watch in Italy's election 03:48

Hundreds of thousands of illegal migrants have fled to Italy's shores, and that's made immigration a key -- and divisive -- issue in this election.

"I feel the migrant problem is huge in Italy," Luigi di Maio told CBS News

Di Maio is the candidate for the populist, anti-establishment "Cinque Stelle" or "Five Stars" movement, which is leading in the polls.

"A lot is made of your age - just 31 - people say you can't possibly be prime minister," CBS News asked Di Maio. 

"The Austrian chancellor is my age, the French president is 40," he said. "Across Europe, young energies are emerging in politics."

5-Star party leader Di Maio speaks during the finally rally ahead of the March 4 elections in downtown Rome
5-Star party leader Luigi Di Maio speaks during the finally rally ahead of the March 4 elections in downtown Rome, Italy, March 2, 2018. TONY GENTILE / REUTERS

The youngest in the race is facing his toughest fight from one of the oldest in Italian politics: Eighty-one-year-old billionaire Silvio Berlusconi. He can't be prime minister again because of a tax fraud conviction, but he is a kingmaker for a coalition on the right -- and was relishing the attention in Naples on Saturday.

 He's pledged to deport illegal migrants, who he's called a "social time bomb ready to explode".
 
Berlusconi's coalition partner, Matteo Salvini of the far-right "Lega" party, has taken a strong anti-migrant, anti-Islam stance that's turned "Lega" into a major player.

Ahead of the election, supporters of a far-right, fringe party took to Rome streets doing the fascist salute, while others have protested the "neo-fascism" and nationalism that have emerged in the battle to gain votes.

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