It will almost certainly take at least one month before a new government can be formed.

Before then, parliament must elect a new president.

Afterwards, important local elections beckon, as well as a crucial referendum.
   
Here is a timetable of key political events in Italy over the next few weeks.
   
April 9-10 - General election 
    
A Nexus exit poll will be released by broadcasters RAI and Mediaset within five minutes of the polls closing on April 10.

Whatever the result, Silvio Berlusconi will remain in office as caretaker prime minister until a new government is sworn in. He and his cabinet will be able to issue decrees and respond to emergencies but cannot implement major legislation.

April 28 - New parliament convenes

April 29 - Election of speakers of senate and lower house

Before May 5 - Parliamentary party leaders to be elected 

Within seven days of parliament's first meeting, the heads of the parliamentary parties must be elected. These are necessary to pave the way for the creation of a new government.

May 12-13 - Election of the president of the republic

Senate, lower house and regional representatives will convene to vote for the Italian president. The mandate of President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi expires on May 18 and it is still not known whether he will stand for re-election.

The vote takes place in secret and needs a two-thirds majority for the first two voting rounds, with an absolute majority sufficient for the third voting round.   

Article 84 of the Italian constitution says any citizen can be elected president who is 50 or older.

After May 13 - Formation of new government

Once elected, the new Italian president holds consultations on the formation of the new government.

The president names the new prime minister after consulting parliamentary party leaders.

A new government could be formed before May 13 if parliament votes overwhelmingly to do so. However, Ciampi has said he does not want this to happen.

The prime minister and government must win a confidence vote in parliament 10 days after being sworn in by the president.

May 28 - Administrative elections

Mayoral elections will be held in some of Italy's most important cities, including Rome and Milan. Regional elections are also being held in Sicily.

If candidates fail to gain at least half of the vote, a run-off ballot will be held on June 11.

Second half of June - Referendum on constitutional reform

Referendum to be held on a far-reaching, controversial reform of the constitution approved by Berlusconi's coalition. The reform includes:

  • Handing important decision-making powers to the regions, 
  • Strengthening the position of the prime minister, and
  • Turning the upper house of parliament into a regional body.