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Elections

Italy's political fate unclear following national election

Italian voters have delivered an inconclusive result in the country’s election, leading to renewed anxiety about the eurozone. While the center-left won the lower house, the fate of the Senate remains unclear.

Italy's interior ministry announced in the early hours of Tuesday that the center-left coalition, led by Pier Luigi Bersani, had won a narrow victory in the country's lower house of parliament.

With almost all of the ballots counted, the bloc had taken around 125,000 votes more than the center-right bloc, led by former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. The AFP news agency put the Bersani grouping's result at 29.55 percent of the vote, compared to 29.18 percent for Berlusconi's bloc. However, a bonus that goes to the winner of the election would give the center-left a comfortable majority in terms of actual seats in the legislature.

"It is clear to everyone that this is a very delicate situation for the country," Bersani said after the preliminary results were released. "We will handle the responsibilities that these elections have given us in Italy's interest."

Final official results were not expected to come until sometime later on Tuesday.

Senate results unclear

Far less clear was the outcome in the upper house, or Senate, where there were some indications that Berlusconi's bloc may have come out on top.

AFP quoted preliminary results from the interior ministry that suggested the center-right could win 110 seats, compared to 97 for the left. Public broadcaster RAI also predicted a center-right victory in the Senate. If confirmed, this would mean that Bersani would need to find another coalition partner to gain control of the upper chamber.

However, figures cited by Reuters painted a very different picture, indicating that the center-left may have taken the upper house as well.

Both houses have an equal say in passing legislation, meaning that one bloc needs to control both in order to be able to form a stable government, and that a split between the two would effectively result in a hung parliament.

Protest movement

A major factor in the outcome of the election appeared to be the 5 Star Movement of comedian Beppe Grillo, which seemed to be on course for around 54 seats in the Senate. Prior to the election, Grillo, who used the campaign to attack all of the established parties, had ruled out entering a coalition with any other grouping. However, it was not immediately clear how he might react in light of his surprising success at the polls.

Grillo is believed to have profited from anger among many Italians over a series of austerity measures imposed by the government of Prime Minister Mario Monti, meant to get to grips with the country's debt crisis. The voters punished Monti's centrist coalition, which only took around 10 percent of the vote.

The uncertainty about the election result has raised fears about possible fresh instability in the eurozone's third-largest economy.

pfd/lw (Reuters, AFP, AP)