Italians spurn traditional parties amid populist surge

The Associated Press

Scrutineers count votes at a polling station in Rome on Sunday.

ReutersROME (Reuters) — Italy faces a prolonged period of political instability after voters delivered a hung parliament on Sunday, spurning traditional parties and flocking to anti-establishment and far-right groups in record numbers.

With votes counted from more than 75 percent of polling stations, it looked almost certain that none of the three main factions would be able to govern alone and there was little prospect of a return to mainstream government, creating a dilemma for the European Union.

A rightist alliance including former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia (Go Italy!) held the biggest bloc of votes.

In a bitter personal defeat that appeared unlikely last week, the billionaire media magnate’s party looked almost certain to be overtaken by its ally, the far-right League, which campaigned on a fiercely anti-migrant ticket.

But the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement saw its support soar to become Italy’s largest single party by far, and one of its senior officials said on Monday that forming a coalition without it would be impossible.

The League’s economics chief on Monday raised the possibility of an alliance with 5-Star. Any government based on that combination would be euro-skeptic, likely to challenge EU budget restrictions and be little interested in further European integration.

The full result was not due until later on Monday and, with the center-right coalition on course for 37 percent of the vote and 5-Star for 31 percent, swift new elections to try to break the deadlock are another plausible scenario.

Despite overseeing a modest economic recovery, the ruling center-left coalition trailed a distant third on 22 percent, hit by widespread anger over persistent poverty, high unemployment and an influx of more than 600,000 migrants over the past four years.

Prolonged political stalemate could make heavily indebted Italy the focus of market concern in Europe, now that the threat of German instability has receded after the revival on Sunday of a grand coalition under Chancellor Angela Merkel.

In early European trading, the euro dipped while investors dumped Italian government debt, with the yield on its 10-year bonds jumping 10 basis points.

“Italy is far from having sorted its long-standing problems, and now it will have new ones. Be prepared for long and complex negotiations,” said Lorenzo Codogno, a former chief economist at the Italian Treasury.Speech

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