A topless protester has failed to ruffle former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, as his right-wing alliance appeared to take the most votes in the country’s elections.
At a polling booth on Monday an activist from a radical feminist group, Femen, jumped on a table and displayed writing on her naked torso, reading: “Berlusconi, you’ve expired.”
Mr Berlusconi, 81, who was there to cast his vote, immediately turned away as the protester was escorted out.
His fellow Italian voters appeared to have delivered a hung parliament, flocking to anti-establishment and far-right parties in record numbers and casting the euro zone’s third-largest economy into a political gridlock that could take months to clear.
The election campaign marked the return of Mr Berlusconi to frontline politics.
🆘‼🤪🔥 #Italy: the moment when the Cavaliere Silvio #Berlusconi enters the polling station in #Milan, a feminist pulls her breasts naked and shouts, "You're done." Only crazy people in this world! #Election2018 pic.twitter.com/J1iNplvA7R
— Onlinemagazin (@OnlineMagazin) March 4, 2018
The former PM was forced to quit in 2011 at the height of a sovereign debt crisis and was widely written off following sex scandals, legal woes and ill health.
A 2013 conviction for tax fraud means he cannot hold public office. He has put forward Antonio Tajani, the president of the European Parliament, as his candidate for prime minister.
If early projections are confirmed, none of Italy’s three main blocs or groups can rule alone and there is little prospect of a return to mainstream government. Scenarios now include a more euro-sceptic coalition or a even return to the polls.
A rightist alliance, including Forza Italia (Go Italy!), emerged with the biggest bloc of votes, ahead of the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement, which saw its support soar to become the largest single party, according to projections based on early vote-counting.
The ruling centre-left coalition came third, hurt by anger over growing poverty, high unemployment and mass immigration.
The full result is not due for many hours and previous elections in Italy have seen wild swings as the count proceeds.
A prolonged political stalemate could make heavily indebted Italy the focus of market concern in Europe, now that the threat of German instability has receded after the revival on Sunday of a grand coalition under Chancellor Angela Merkel.
The euro dipped in Asia early on Monday, with investors awaiting clearer results from Italy.
“Italy is far from having sorted its long-standing problems, and now it will have new ones. Be prepared for long and complex negotiations that will take months,” said Lorenzo Codogno, a former chief economist at the Italian Treasury.
The centre-right alliance was seen winning 37.3 per cent in the upper house Senate, according to projections made by SWG pollsters based on early vote counts, short of the 40 per cent analysts believe is needed for a working majority.
The 5-Star Movement was on track to win 32.3 per cent of the vote, while the ruling centre-left Democratic Party (PD) was projected to see its support collapse to 18.9 percent.
Within the rightist bloc, the League was put on 17.5 per cent, well ahead of the more moderate Forza Italia, suggesting its pledge of zero tolerance on immigration and tough anti-EU rhetoric had resonated with voters.
During two months of election campaigning, party leaders repeatedly ruled out any post-election tie-ups with their rivals. However, Italy has a long history of finding a way out of apparently intractable political stalemate.
The 5-Star once rejected talk of any power sharing, but it has since modified its position and says it is willing to discuss shared policies but not negotiate over cabinet posts.
“This is a real moment of glory,” Alessandro Di Battista, a leading 5-Star figure, told reporters as the first results arrived.
Heavily indebted Italy is the third-largest economy in the 19-member euro zone and although investors have been sanguine ahead of the ballot, prolonged political stalemate could reawaken the threat of market instability.
The vote is being held under a complex new electoral law which means the final result might not be clear until late Monday.