Italy exit poll shows election heading for a hung parliament
The exit poll by Rai state television on Sunday evening showed the Five Star Movement would be the largest single party, but a center-right bloc — which features former Prime Minister Silvio
Berlusconi's Forza Italia party — would gain the most seats.
However, no party or coalition is expected to have enough seats to gain a majority, potentially leading to a period of instability in the country. Italian exit polls have notably been inaccurate in the past and the country's Interior Ministry will release official results during the night with a final outcome likely to be revealed at 2 p.m. local time Monday.
Alongside Forza Italia, the center-right bloc comprises Noi con l'Italia, as well as Lega (formerly Lega Nord) and Fratelli d'Italia. The exit poll showed that this bloc could get between 33 and 36 percent of the vote. It also showed that the populist Five Star Movement was the most popular single party, with between 29 and 32 percent of the vote.
When based on parliamentary seats, the same state television poll projected that the center-right would gain 225 to 265 seats, well off the 316 needed for a majority.
Meanwhile, Italy's ruling Democratic Party (PD) is expected to get 21 percent of the vote and looks likely to end up in opposition. "If this is the result, for us it is a defeat, and we will move into the opposition," PD lower house leader Ettore Rosato said, according to Reuters.
In the currency markets, the euro was fairly stable against the dollar after the exit poll at 11:00 p.m. local time Sunday. The single currency was trading higher by around 0.2 percent before the poll, and had held onto those gains an hour later, after some brief volatility.
Expected hung parliament
M5S has not entered any coalition, although party leader Di Maio told CNBC in early February that if the party did not gain a majority to govern alone, it was willing to speak to other parties, although he did not say which ones.
Thus, potentially M5S could link up with other parties to form a coalition large enough to gain a majority in the lower house. Likewise, the center-right alliance could also renegotiate with other parties.
Closely-watched in Europe
Following an election campaign that featured immigration as a hot topic, the vote was seen as test of strength for far-right parties, such as Fratelli d'Italia and Lega, that have campaigned on an anti-immigration stance.
The country's fragile economy was also a feature in the run-up to the election with lackluster growth and an unemployment rate of 11.1 percent dominating the debate. On Friday, fourth-quarter gross domestic product (GDP) showed the economy expanded by 0.3 percent from the previous quarter.
The country's banking system is still mired in non-performing loans amounting to more than 300 billion euros ($368.5 billion). Italy's debt-to-GDP ratio stood at 133 percent in 2017, according to the International Monetary Fund.