The seemingly unstoppable political force that is billionaire mogul Silvio Berlusconi, who emerged from his latest political foray neck-and-neck with his centre-left rival in the Italian national elections, could finally be grinding to a halt as the political express train finally runs of gas.
Still, the haul of votes won by the former prime minister was hailed by HuffPost Italy as "a remarkable comeback."
Former Premier Silvio Berlusconi exits a booth as he votes in a polling station in Milan, Italy
The victor, in an nail-bitingly close election, is Pier Luigi Bersani's progressive coalition. His centre-left alliance won a majority in the lower house in the election, but have failed to decisively win the Senate, which it must hold to be able to legislate.
Bersani said in a statement: "The center has won the House and votes in the Senate. It is obvious to everyone that this is a delicate situation for the country. We will deal with the responsibilities that these elections have given us in the interests of Italy."
And a former stand-up comedian, Beppe Grillo, who has refused to give interviews to national media, instead preferring comic routines at the expense of the political class at national rallies has scooped up an astonishing haul of votes, with his party "5 Star Movement" neatly capitalising on voter disillusionment.
Italian media dubbed the country "ungovernable" and "a pig's mess". One of the leading broadsheets, Corriere della Sera, quote Renato Balduzzi, outgoing health minister as saying: “The voters have sent unmistakable signals.
"If one in four haven’t voted and the same number voted for a self-declared protest list of candidates, it means that it is absolutely necessary to do something. We hope that the political forces [centre-left and centre-right] have understood this. “
Italian comic-turned-political agitator Beppe Grillo, leader of the anti-establishment 5 Star Movement, delivers his speech during a final rally
Almost a quarter of the country did not vote in the election. The current prime minister, Mario Monti, once dubbed "Super Mario" who fed the country a bitter austerity pill in the wake of the eurozone crisis, trailed a distant fourth.
Berlusconi on Tuesday declared himself open to an alliance with Bersani. "Italy cannot be left ungoverned, we have to reflect," Berlusconi said in a television interview. He ruled out a coalition with Monti, and said the country had "rejected" austerity.
Conversely, Bersani, a former communist, has signalled a willingness to form a coalition with Monti, but the formation of a new government could take days.
According to AP, the shockwaves post-election in the eurozone's third-biggest economy were felt across the globe – sending the Dow Jones index plunging more than 200 points in its sharpest drop since November and causing Tokyo's red-hot benchmark index to sink nearly 2 percent at open.
For a campaign that started as little more than a joke three years ago, comparable to the team of Mock The Week forming a political party led by Frankie Boyle, Grillo's party looks set to become the biggest single party in Parliament's lower house.
Berlusconi is also unlikely to ally with Grillo, his sex life having been the butt of the comedian's jokes for years.
But the party did not rule it out. "Dialogue with Berlusconi? It is very difficult to imagine that Berlusconi would propose useful ideas," said 5 Star Movement candidate Alessandro Di Battista told AP. "It never happened until now, but miracles happen."
With 99.7 percent of the lower house vote counted, the Bersani camp had had 29.55 percent of the vote, to Berlusconi's 29.17 percent. Grillo had 25.54 and Monti's alliance 10.56.
In the Senate, near complete Interior Ministry figures showed Bersani and his allies had nearly 32 percent while Berlusconi and his coalition partners were pulling nearly 31 percent. Grillo had more than 23 percent.
Pier Luigi Bersani, leader of the Democratic Party, casts his ballot, in Piacenza, Italy
The election result in Italy is expected to make it harder for the country to pass the reforms it needs to overhaul its debt-laden economy.
Rebecca O'Keeffe, head of investment at Interactive Investor, warned of increased volatility in the coming weeks after Italian voters served up the worst possible outcome for investors.
She said: "Equity markets have reacted swiftly and severely - giving up yesterday's gains and more.
"While an attempt at a coalition government may yet be made, no overall control seems the most probable outcome, with a second vote likely in the months ahead."
Despite the political posturing, wheeling and dealing, the Italian press are united on one thing they have known for years - never rule out Silvio.
02/25/2013 5:17 PM EST
A Victory...For Italian Democracy?
@ duncanmcdonnell :
Amid the confusion, today provides 1 nice reminder: Italian democracy's fate is not solely in hands of the markets, the EU, or editorials.
02/25/2013 5:09 PM EST
Chamber Of Deputies Deadlock?
The latest figures released by the interior ministry shows a 0,72% margin between the Centre-left and the Centre-right coalitions.
02/25/2013 4:54 PM EST
Monti 'Satisfied' With Results
Outgoing Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti said on Monday that no country has such a bad electoral law as Italy. Monti added that he is satisfied with results of his centrist coalition.
@ CiancioTR :
Monti says no country has such a bad electoral law as Italy #italyreuters #italyvote
02/25/2013 4:50 PM EST
Senate Results Could Change
According to HuffPost Italy, if the Centre-left coalition wins in the norther region of Piedmont, the Senate results would be overturned and the Democratic Party would win with a relative majority.
02/25/2013 4:38 PM EST
Shock Wave Results
The Guardian reporters John Hooper and Lizzy Davies recap the biggest events of the day and come to a sobering conclusion.
Crucially, it seemed certain that neither right nor left could obtain an outright majority in the upper house, where the balance would be held by the M5S. So far, Grillo has ruled out supporting either side in his drive to sweep away Italy’s existing political parties and the cronyistic culture they support.
Exceeding even the most adventurous pre-electoral predictions, the populist M5S was set to emerge as Italy’s biggest single party - a result that will send shock waves through the eurozone and beyond. Because it is running alone and not in a coalition, however, Grillo’s movement lagged the two big alliances in the number of seats.
The emerging result indicated that fresh elections were a strong possibility and, at best, foreshadowed a weak government unable to pass the tough reforms Italy needs to enhance its grim economic prospects.
Read the full analysis on the Guardian website.
02/25/2013 4:33 PM EST
@ AP :
Stocks plunge as investors worry that Italy could be seized with political paralysis; Dow drops 216: http://t.co/cAavWvIAuU -RJJ
02/25/2013 4:09 PM EST
Italy's Complicated Election Law
The Guardian explains Italy's complicated election laws, and recaps the latest results:
Election laws in Italy mean the biggest party in the Chamber of Deputies is guaranteed a 54% majority. But the Senate has no such "majority bonus". The latest projection from Rai shows Berlusconi's bloc winning 112 Senate seats, the centre-left 105, Grillo 64, with Monti's centrists on only 20. The Senate majority is 158.
Read more from The Guardian here.
02/25/2013 3:55 PM EST
Grillo Thanks His Supporters
Beppe Grillo spoke for the first time since the closing of the polls, thanking all his supporters for "a fantastic adventure."
Grillo added on his movement's YouTube channel that Italy's two main parties have failed. "They have been around for the past 25 years, they embody Italy's problem."
"Handing back the country to Silvio Berlusconi for six months, or a year, is a crime against the galaxy, against the entire galaxy," Grillo also said.
02/25/2013 3:46 PM EST
Can't Keep A Good Man Down
The detail of a ripped election poster shows a smiling Silvio Berlusconi on February 25, 2013 in Livorno, Italy. (Laura Lezza/Getty Images)