Italy elections deliver stalemate, Silvio Berlusconi and maverick Five Star advance

Italy elections deliver stalemate, Silvio Berlusconi and maverick Five Star advance

Leader of Lega Nord party Matteo Salvini votes in the Italian General Election at a polling station on March 4, 2018 in Milan, Italy.

The centre-right coalition now dominating includes a smaller far-right party, with 33% to 36% percent of the vote, compared with the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement's 29.5% to 32.5%.

But the eurozone's third-biggest economy was in political limbo as negotiations between the various groups to determine who leads looked likely to take weeks or months. "We are a political force that represents the entire nation", he declared.

Italy is now poised for a hung parliament - despite former PM Silvio Berlusconi's coalition collecting the most votes. President Sergio Mattarella is not expected to open formal coalition talks until early April, Reuters reported.

For roughly a quarter-century following the political upheaval in Europe set in motion by the demise of Eastern bloc communism, Italy's elections had largely alternated power between a center-right coalition headed by Berlusconi, who served three terms as premier, and a center-left bloc built around the Democratic Party, many of them former communists. But he said the PD would play no part in the next administration.

For as long as I have covered European politics (and that now goes back 20 years) the EU has pledged loudly to "bring Europe closer to the people".

Beaten by the anti-system 5-Star Movement and a center-right coalition dominated by the eurosceptic League, Renzi acknowledged the defeat at PD headquarters in Rome.

Preliminary results released by Italy's Interior Ministry showed the centre-right coalition winning about 37 per cent of the parliamentary vote and the populist 5-Star Movement getting about 32pc.

The role reversal marks a bitter personal defeat for the billionaire media magnate and his party, which took more moderate positions on the euro and immigration while the far-right League campaigned on a fiercely anti-migrant ticket.

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His decision to quit as party head is an alarming change in fortune for a man who just a few years ago was hailed as a reformer when he became Italy's youngest prime minister at the age of 39 in 2014.

A poll for RAI state television said a bloc of centre-right and far-right parties would win between 33-36 percent of the vote, short of the 40 percent analysts have said is the minimum needed to secure a majority under Italy's new electoral law.

He said his party, which won almost 18 per cent of the vote - up from four per cent five years ago - would be willing to talk to all parties, but indicated it would not take part in a "minestrone" soup coalition, apparently referring to a broad coalition government.

An hour later, 5-Star leader Luigi Di Maio made the same claim for his party. At some point, an increasingly mainstream Five Star and the center-left Democratic Party may warm up to each other.

Surveys show Italians are increasingly uneasy after more than 600,000 migrants reached Italy by boat in four years.

"Italy has, it's undeniable, suffered for months and months under the pressure of migration", Macron said in Paris.

Appealing to disillusioned voters, particularly in Italy's poorer south, the group combines a wide range of views that make it hard to place on a left-right spectrum: It is pro-environment, anti-banks and skeptical of the European Union.

As the initial results came in, Le Pen also tweeted, "The European Union is having a bad evening".

"Italy is, more than anywhere else in the world right now - even more than Brexit, even more than the Trump revolution in the USA - the cutting edge of the sovereignty movement, of people saying we've tried to play by the rules, we've voted in centre-left governments and centre-right governments and none of that has worked", Steve Bannon, the former White House chief strategist, remarked in Rome.