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. “

beppe grillo

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.

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  • Mario Monti

    The former European commissioner, Monti was called in by the Italian President Giorgio Napolitano to take over for Silvio Berlusconi in November 2011, at the height of the financial storm that struck the European Union. Monti's government was given an enthusiastic welcome by the markets, and enjoyed the support of a broad coalition: from the Democratic Party to Silvio Berlusconi's The People of Freedom party. Over a 13-month tenure in Palazzo Chigi, Monti enacted a major overhaul of Italy's pension system, reformed the labor market and made significant cuts in government spending. But his most radical reforms were blocked in parliament by vetoes from different parties, and in the end his government managed to accomplish far less than it initially promised.

  • Silvio Berlusconi

    Currently running for a sixth time, Berlusconi has previously earned three victories (1994, 2001 and 2008) and suffered two defeats (1996 and 2006). He leads the center-right coalition, allied with the Northern League and the conservative party, The Right. However, for the first time in his political career, il Cavaliere will not run as a candidate for prime minister, and officially the parties have not yet reached an agreement on who they'll choose as prime minister in the event of a victory. Berlusconi wants to install his heir apparent, Angelino Alfano. The Northern League wants to see ex-finance minister Giulio Tremonti given the position.

  • Pier Luigi Bersani

    Secretary of the Democratic Party since 2009, Bersani defeated his challenger Matteo Renzi in the primaries. Renzi is the young mayor of Florence, and ran on a platform pushing for major reforms within the party. Bersani has formed an alliance with former communist Nichi Vendola, but has often declared his willingness to expand the coalition following the vote to include Monti's centrists. Everything will depend on the outcomes of voting in several key regions. If the center-left fails to win a majority in the senate, a deal with the outgoing prime minister will become inevitable.

  • Beppe Grillo

    The surprise of this electoral campaign. Grillo is the only political leader who hasn't given any interviews, and who chose not to appear on any TV show. He has run his electoral campaign entirely via Internet and in public piazzas, traveling all over the country and drawing huge crowds wherever he has appeared. He is also the only political leader who is not a candidate for parliament, despite the fact that his party appears destined to earn more than 20 percent of the vote. No matter what the outcome of the elections is, Grillo has already declared that he will not make an alliance with anyone, and that his Five Star Movement will always remain in the opposition.

  • Oscar Giannino

    Last year, Giannino, journalist and economist, founded the movement Stop the Decline, a party with liberal aspirations that considers both Berlusconi's center-right and Mario Monti's center-left to be adversaries. Giannino supports progressive government withdrawal from the economy, and is calling for a major reduction in fiscal pressure (Italy's is currently among the highest in Europe). After an early, rapid rise in the polls and now just a couple of weeks from election day, Giannino became embroiled in a minor "scandal" when one of his main supporters publicly accused him of having lied about a masters degree he claims to have earned from the University of Chicago. Despite subsequent clarification, the episode significantly weakened the party, and will in all likelihood prevent him from entering parliament.

  • Antonio Ingroia

    A magistrate from Palermo who grappled with the mafia, Ingroia decided to temporarily abandon his profession in order to lead the center-left political coalition Rivoluzione Civile (Civil Revolution). While his party may win some seats in the House, it will be very difficult for him to win any seats in the Senate (except in a few individual regions). Among the main themes of its program, Rivoluzione Civile promises to wage a fierce war on corruption and organized crime. Ingroia is also calling for a revision of the Fiscal Compact, the accord underwritten in 2011 by Berlusconi that forces all European member states to enact tough measures designed to reduce government spending.

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@ 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.

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The latest figures released by the interior ministry shows a 0,72% margin between the Centre-left and the Centre-right coalitions.

--Cosima Ungaro

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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

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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.

--Cosima Ungaro

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The Guardian reporters John Hooper and Lizzy Davies recap the biggest events of the day and come to a sobering conclusion.

They write:

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.

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@ AP : Stocks plunge as investors worry that Italy could be seized with political paralysis; Dow drops 216: -RJJ

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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.

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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.

--Cosima Ungaro

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berlusconi photo The detail of a ripped election poster shows a smiling Silvio Berlusconi on February 25, 2013 in Livorno, Italy. (Laura Lezza/Getty Images)

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@ beppe_grillo : Interverrò in diretta streaming alle ore 21.30 su La Cosa! Seguite la diretta su #TsunamiTour

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Catherine Hornby collected reactions from several disappointed Italians for Reuters.

"I am considering leaving Italy, it's the first time I've ever felt like this. The Centre Left has to win in the Chamber of Deputies to avoid a major disaster," 70-year-old retired teacher Vito told Horny.

"If the projections are true the country will be ungovernable. For us this will be the worst. I voted for the PD," says union worker Ferrucio Fiorot, 58. "The crisis is evident. We need to make the country grow, put money in people's pockets so they can spend. With all the unemployed this downturn has created, industry failing, even food spending down, how can you say this is not a crisis? If we don't do something we'll end up like Greece," he said.

Read more on fron Hornby on the Reuters website.

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  • home Liberation

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  • der Spiegel

  • Le Monde

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  • el Paìs

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  • the Guardian

  • The Wall Street Journal

  • Time

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berlusconi A cameraman films journalists at at the People of Freedom party headquarters as they follow first electoral result in Rome, Monday, Feb. 25, 2013. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

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The BBC reports that European officials would prefer to see a coalition between current Prime Minister Mario Monti and the Centre-Left group of Bersani.

The BBC explains:

Correspondents say Italy's EU partners and the financial markets want to see a stable outcome to the election, with a commitment to reform and debt-reduction.

The BBC's Europe editor, Gavin Hewitt, says Brussels and Berlin would like to see Mr Bersani form a governing coalition with Mr Monti.

They fear that an uncertain outcome could lead to Greek-style paralysis in the eurozone's third largest economy, he says.

Read the full story here.

-- Eline Gordts

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@ AlecMacGillis : On same day Italians hold crazy election, researchers announce Mediterranean diet cuts health risks 1/3. So: Berlusconi forever.

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Dear Bersani, if you really want the Democratic Party to finally win the elections, resign and leave your seat to Matteo Renzi.

As the Centre-Right coalition appears to lead in the Senate, supporters of Centre-Left Democratic coalition took to twitter to voice their discontent with its leader Pier Luigi Bersani. Tweeps called for the return of Matteo Renzi, who lost his party's primary against Bersani.

--Cosima Ungaro

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@ NaomiOhReally : Latest projection of Senate means either Berlusconi or Bersani would need 5-Star to reach majority of 158 seats #italyreuters #italyvote

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@ bruce_arthur : This @DougSaunders piece on Italy in 2006 explains why it could fall for Berlusconi again, and is so brilliant: fast

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A tycoon, a professor, a politician, a comedian, a magistrate and a journalist face off to run an economically troubled country. Welcome to Italy's 2013 election. Joining the conversation are Nicholas Sabloff, Huffington Post Executive International Editor and Davide Tramballi.

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Former Italian Prime Minister casted his ballot at a polling station on Sunday.

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Reuters reports:

Conflicting early forecasts of the result of Italy's election on Monday raised the spectre of deadlock in parliament that could paralyse a new government and re-ignite the euro zone crisis.

Officials from both centre and left warned that such gridlock could make Italy ungovernable and force new elections.

Opinion polls have long pointed to the centre-left of Pier Luigi Bersani winning the lower house, but projections from RAI state television showed Silvio Berlusconi's centre right in front in the Senate - which has equal lawmaking power - but unable to form a majority.

Read the full story here.

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Previous predictions which hinted Berlusconi's coalition would win the Chamber of Deputies are now contradicted by the news results indicating the centre-left would get 33,52% of the vote and the centre-right 25,09%, according to HuffPost Italy.

--Cosima Ungaro

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@ NaomiOhReally : Rai poll: centre-left plus Monti would still have fewer seats than Berlusconi's centre-right. 5-Star is kingmaker #italyreuters #italyvote

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HuffPost Italy reveals that the latests prediction issued by Rai/Piepoli shows deadlock in the Senate, with both the Centre-Right and Centre-Left coalition winning 30,7% of the vote.

--Cosima Ungaro

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The polling website has published a wonderful interactive map showing the change in voter turnout in Italy between the 2013 general election and previous electoral cycles. The greater the decrease in voter turnout, the darker red a province appears on the map. So far, all of Italy is in the red, with the greatest decreases appearing to be concentrated in Lombardy, Campania, Calabria and Sicily.

--Carlo Davis

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A torn electoral poster shows center-right coalition leader Silvio Berlusconi in Rome, Monday, Feb. 25, 2013. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

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Over two hours and a half after the closing of the polls, no declarations have been heard from Gianfranco Fini and Pierferdinando Casini, both allied to Mario Monti, reports HuffPost Italy.

--Cosima Ungaro

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Sandro Bondi, Berlusconi's longtime loyal devotee praises the Cavaliere: "The extraordinary result predicted for the centre-right coalition is exclusively due to Silvio Berlusconi, the architect of this memorable endeavor," according to HuffPost Italy.

--Cosima Ungaro

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italy A man walks past electoral posters as the Palatine hill is seen in background, in Rome, Monday, Feb. 25, 2013. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

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