For about a year, from late 2005 to late 2006, close elections were the rule worldwide: New Zealand, Germany, Sri Lanka, the Czech Republic, Mexico, Sweden and several others all produced unusually narrow margins, hung parliaments or minority governments. Italy, in April 2006, was an almighty cliffhanger, with incumbent Silvio Berlusconi refusing for weeks to concede defeat after suffering the narrowest of losses.

The centre-left coalition of Romano Prodi won by just 0.2%; that was enough for a decent majority in the lower house, where the winning coalition gets a bonus allocation of seats, but left the Senate evenly divided. So it was no great surprise when the new government ran into difficulties, and eventually lost a Senate vote of confidence in January this year, leading to fresh elections.