ROME: A right-wing alliance led by Giorgia Meloni's Brothers of Italy party looked set for a clear majority in the next parliament, exit polls said on Sunday (Sep 25) after voting ended in an Italian national election.
The polls, if confirmed, would give Italy its most right-wing government since World War II, with Meloni expected to become the country's first woman prime minister.
Early on Monday, Italy's main centre-left group, the Democratic Party (PD), conceded defeat and said it would be the largest opposition force in the next parliament.
"This is a sad evening for the country," Debora Serracchiani, a senior PD lawmaker, told reporters in the party's first official comment on the result. "(The right) has the majority in parliament, but not in the country."
An exit poll for state broadcaster RAI said the bloc of conservative parties, that also includes Matteo Salvini's League and Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia party, won between 41 per cent and 45 per cent, enough to guarantee control of both houses of parliament.
"Centre-right clearly ahead both in the lower house and the Senate! It'll be a long night but even now I want to say thanks," Salvini said on Twitter.
Italy's electoral law favours groups that manage to create pre-ballot pacts, giving them an outsized number of seats by comparison with their vote tally.
RAI said the right-wing alliance would win between 227 and 257 of the 400 seats in the lower house of parliament, and 111-131 of the 200 Senate seats.
Full results are expected by early Monday.
As leader of the biggest party in the winning alliance, Meloni is the obvious choice to become prime minister, but the transfer of power is traditionally slow and it could take more than a month before the new government is sworn in.
Meloni, 45, plays down her party's post-fascist roots and portrays it as a mainstream conservative group. She has pledged to support Western policy on Ukraine and not take undue risks with the third largest economy in the euro zone.
However, the outcome is likely to ring alarm bells in European capitals and on financial markets, given the desire to preserve unity in dealings with Russia and concerns over Italy's daunting debt mountain.
RECORD LOW TURNOUT
The result caps a remarkable rise for Meloni, whose party won only 4 per cent of the vote in the last national election in 2018, but this time around was forecast to emerge as Italy's largest group on around 22 per cent to 26 per cent.
But it was not a ringing endorsement, with provisional data pointing to turnout of just 64.1 per cent against 74 per cent four years ago - a record low number in a country that has historically enjoyed a high level of voter participation.
Italy's first autumn national election in over a century was triggered by party infighting that brought down Prime Minister Mario Draghi's broad national unity government in July.
Italy has a history of political instability and the next prime minister will lead the country's 68th government since 1946 and face a host of challenges, notably soaring energy costs and growing economic headwinds.
The new, slimmed-down parliament will not meet until Oct 13, at which point the head of state will summon party leaders and decide on the shape of the new government.