Far-right leader Giorgia Meloni has won Italy’s election, according to exit polls, and is on course to become the country’s first female prime minister.
If they are confirmed, Ms Meloni will aim to form Italy’s most right-wing government since World War Two.
A Meloni-led Italy will alarm much of Europe with Russia at war in Ukraine.
She is predicted to win between 22-26% of the vote, says a Rai exit poll, ahead of her closest rival Enrico Letta from the centre left.
Several exit polls just published given her right-wing alliance a commanding lead, with 41-45% of the vote. That would give the three parties control of both elected houses of parliament.
The centre left was well behind with 25.5%-29.5%. They failed to form a viable challenge with other parties, after Italy’s 18-month national unity government collapsed in July. The Five Star Movement under Giuseppe Conte is on course for third place but despite having several centre-left policies does not see eye to eye with Enrico Letta.
Turnout was a dramatically low 64.7% by the time polls closed, said Italy’s interior ministry. Voting levels were especially poor in southern regions including Sicily.
The decision on who becomes Italy’s next leader is up to the president, not Giorgia Meloni, and that will take time.
Although she has worked hard to soften her image, emphasising her support for Ukraine and diluting anti-EU rhetoric, she leads a party rooted in a post-war movement that rose out of Benito Mussolini’s fascists.
Italy is a founding father of the European Union and a member of Nato, and Ms Meloni’s rhetoric on the EU places her close to Hungary’s nationalist leader Viktor Orban.
However, Prof Gianluca Passarrelli told the BBC he thought she would avoid rocking the boat on Europe and focus on other policies: “I think we will see more restrictions on civil rights and policies on LGBT and immigrants.”
Her allies, Matteo Salvini of the far-right League, and Silvio Berlusconi’s centre-right Forza Italia have both had close ties with Russia. Mr Salvini will be hoping to return to the interior ministry to halt migrant boats crossing from Libya,
Reacting to the exit polls, Mr Salvini said the right had a clear advantage in both the Chamber and Senate.