Preliminary election results show Italy heading for hung parliament

Preliminary results in Italy's general election suggest the country faces the prospect of a hung parliament.

They show a centre-right coalition winning about 37% of the parliamentary vote and the 5-Star Movement getting about 31%, with the centre-left coalition far behind with 23%.

With no faction winning a clear majority the results confirm that negotiations to form a government that can win a confidence vote in Parliament will likely be long and fraught.

The partial results - released by Italy's interior ministry - show the right-wing, anti-immigrant and eurosceptic Northern League party of Matteo Salvini surpassing the establishment Forza Italia party of former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi.

The Northern League captured around 18%, while Forza Italia had less than 14%.

Berlusconi wipes the forehead of the Northern League's Matteo Salvini at a media event Credit: AP

"Ungovernable Italy" was how Italian daily newspaper La Stampa headlined its election summary.

Political analyst Lorenzo Codogno of London-based LC Macro Advisors commented: "Financial markets are likely to take these figures negatively."

He added that a hung Parliament would make it "extremely difficult for a narrow mainstream coalition to have the numbers to govern".

How the seats finally are sorted out could determine if Italy is swept up in the eurosceptic and far-right sentiment that has emerged in much of Europe.

The run up to the election saw clashes between anti-fascist protestors and supporters of far-right parties.

ITV News recorded customers at one Milan restaurant openly performing fascist salutes while listening to Mussolini-era marching songs.

In the last four years, 600,000 economic migrants and refugees have arrived in Italy, fuelling anti-immigrant sentiment which has led to the rise of populist parties.

In just a few short years, the Northern League has gone from a small party in the north of Italy to a national force which could soon be part of the most right-wing Italian government since the Second World War.

A few weeks ago a candidate who once stood for the same party shot six immigrants in the central Italian town of Macerata, and police later found Hitler's writings in his apartment.

Unemployment is at 10.8% and economic growth in the eurozone's third-largest economy is lagging the average.