Italy’s EU partners have called for a stable government to be formed as quickly as possible. Ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi hinted he might be willing to join a grand coalition with his center-left rivals.
According to near-final results on Tuesday, the centre-left had managed a wafer-thin majority in the lower house of parliament. A small number of seats, based on Italians voting abroad, remained to be decided.
However, no grouping had a clear majority in the Senate - where Pier Luigi Bersani's center-left coalition and Silvio Berlusconi's conservative group were roughly even, but around 40 seats short of a majority.
Markets appeared rattled by the election, with both Italian stocks and government bonds falling - shares on the main stock market index closed almost 5 percent down at the end of Tuesday trading. Meanwhile, the interest rate that the Italian government must pay for 10-year loans widened in comparison with Germany.
Former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, whose center-right coalition did better than expected, downplayed the market response.
"Markets go their own way. They are independent and also a little crazy," he said, indicating he was willing to consider a grand coalition between his People of Freedom Party and Bersani's Democratic Party.
Bersani on Tuesday refused to say with whom he would try to form a government. Instead, he said he would present a draft reform agenda next month and see which political groupings were prepared to accept it.
The big loser of the election was outgoing Prime Minister Mario Monti, whose centrist group came in fourth place with just 10.56 percent of the vote for the lower house.
Politicians across Europe stressed the need for a stable government to be formed quickly. German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said it was important for the EU as a whole.
"What is now decisive for Italy - but, also because Italy is such an important country for Europe, also for the whole of Europe - is that a stable government that is capable of acting can be formed as quickly as possible," Westerwelle said.
'Italy not undermined'
French Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici admitted that the political deadlock was "no doubt a worry," but said the threat was not as great as some feared. "This does not undermine the fundamentals of Italy, which is a major economy, or of the eurozone," he said.
The outcome of the election is thought to have been affected by low voter turnout and the success of a euroskeptic protest movement led by comedian Beppe Grillo.
European Commission spokesman Olivier Bailly said that, while Europe's executive body took note of the concerns of the Italian people, it also expected Rome to adhere to promises of reforms.
"We clearly hear the message of concern expressed by Italian citizens," Bailly told journalists.
"We are not worried," Bailly said. "We would like to underline our full confidence to the Italian authorities, to their capacity to find and establish a political majority that will continue to deliver a growth and jobs agenda."
rc/msh (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)