TWO populist and stridently anti-European Union political groups, both fierce rivals, surged in Italy’s parliamentary election at the expense of the country’s traditional powers, but neither gained enough support to govern alone, preliminary results showed yesterday.

With no faction winning a clear majority in Sunday’s vote, a hung parliament was expected and long, fraught negotiations to form a new coalition government lie ahead.

Financial markets opened lower yesterday on the news and were volatile.

“Ungovernable Italy” headlined La Stampa newspaper.

Preliminary results released by Italy’s interior ministry showed the centre-right coalition winning about 37 per cent of the parliamentary vote and the populist 5-Star Movement getting about 32 per cent. The centre-left coalition was far behind with 23 per cent support.

In an upset, the results showed the populist, right-wing and anti-immigrant League party led by Matteo Salvini surpassed the longtime anchor of the centre-right, the Forza Italia party of ex-Premier Silvio Berlusconi. According to the partial results, the League captured around 18 per cent of the vote, while Forza Italia had less than 14 per cent.

A triumphant Salvini celebrated the victory of the centre-right bloc, saying it had won the “right and the duty to govern”, and announced that his party, not Berlusconi’s, would lead that effort.

Salvini, who has never held public office in Italy, said he would begin sounding out any potential allies to reach the necessary parliamentary majority, but he ruled out any “strange coalitions”, an apparent reference to a possible alliance with the 5-Stars.

“I am and will remain a populist,” he said. He also repeated his belief that joining the common euro currency was a mistake for Italy, but said financial markets should not fear his party’s leadership.

But the anti-establishment 5-Stars were the highest vote-getter of any single party, prompting their leader, Luigi Di Maio, to immediately assert his right to govern Italy. Di Maio noted yesterday that no campaign bloc had obtained a majority and that the 5-Stars had strong showings from north to south.

“The fact that we are representative of the entire nation projects us inevitably toward the government of the country,” Di Maio said at a news conference in which he took no questions. “Today, for us, it is the start of the Third Republic. And the Third will finally be the republic of citizens.”

The results confirmed the surging of populist, right-wing eurosceptic forces that have swept across Europe and the defeat of the two main political forces that have dominated Italian politics for decades, Forza Italia and the centre-left Democrats.

“The vote has radically transformed Italy’s political landscape and its repercussions will be long-lasting,” said political analyst Wolfango Piccoli.

Piccoli, the co-founder of the Teneo Intelligence consultancy, said the negotiations to form a coalition government would be “prolonged and the outcome uncertain”, adding that the centre-right is best positioned to form a government, expected to secure 250-260 seats in the 630-member lower house. Still it will fall short of the 316 needed to control a majority.

The 5-Stars are expected to get 230 seats.

“The European Union is having a bad evening,” French far-right leader Marine Le Pen tweeted. Former Ukip leader Nigel Farage also congratulated the 5-Stars.

The 5-Star Movement considers itself an internet-based democracy, not a party, and views established political parties as a parasitic caste. Since its birth in 2009, the 5-Stars have attracted legions of mostly young Italians who are facing few job prospects and are fed up with Italy’s traditional politicians.

The 5-Stars had a remarkably strong showing in the south, which has long been a stronghold of the centre-right and Forza Italia.

During the campaign, Di Maio backed off early 5-Star policy to push for a referendum to get Italy out of the shared euro-currency group. But 5-Star members, who espouse a range of ideology-defying pro-green, anti-bank views, rail against what they say are excessive EU rules.

It will now be up to President Sergio Mattarella, a constitutional scholar, to sound out the political parties to determine who has the best chances of forming a government.

The League, which only captured 4 per cent of the national vote in the last general election in 2013, was particularly strong in the north, its traditional base. In Veneto, where it won 11 per cent in 2013, it captured around 33 per cent this time around.

Between the League and the 5-Stars, the results showed that the two parties with the most eurosceptic platforms together topped the 50 per cent needed to rule Italy. While the two are rivals, if they joined together, analysts have called that a “nightmare scenario” for the European Union and the financial markets.