While the official results in full aren't expected until Monday afternoon (local time), Italy's national election is unlikely to produce an outright winner, with voters cooling considerably on the ruling coalition.
Early projections point to a hung parliament in the Italian General Election.
According to the exit polls, the right-leaning alliance anchored by former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia will secure the biggest share of the vote, with 33-36%, but that will still be short of the 40% needed to secure a majority under Italy’s new electoral law.
The coalition — which also includes Matteo Salvini’s far-right League (formerly branded as the Northern League), and the nationalist Brothers of Italy party — has seized on the country’s swing to the right of the political spectrum fuelled by the flood of illegal immigrants, low employment rates and rising poverty.
The Forza Italia (Go Italy) party and the League are both seen winning 12.5-15.5% of the vote.
Preventing the coalition from securing enough seats to gain a majority, is the 5 Star Movement (M5S) party, and the ruling Democratic Party (PD), which has seen a dramatic slide in popularity culminating in the resignation of prime minister Matteo Renzi in December.
The anti-establishment M5S is expected to be the largest single party by a substantial margin, with the projection suggesting the group had 33% of the vote in the upper house senate.
“This is a real moment of glory… everyone will have to come talk to us”, leading Five Star figure Alessandro Di Battista told reporters as first results arrived.
Led by 31-year-old Luigi Di Maio and founded by comedian Beppe Grillo, M5S has exploded in popularity since its formation in 2009 because of the public’s growing mistrust of the political elite.
There is the possibility that M5S and the League could form a ruling coalition, as they have teamed up before to drive Renzi to resign, and would share enough seats to form a majority.
In the past, the two have also shared strong eurosceptic views. And while the League remains committed to leaving the European Union, M5S has reversed its anti-Europe position, as it attempts to prove to Italy’s partners and financial markets that it can be trusted in government.
Full results are not expected until 2pm (local time) on Monday.