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Italy lurches to the Right as country goes to the polls

Italy lurched to the populist right last night, initial election exit polls suggested.

The anti-establishment Five Star Movement, founded by controversial comedian Beppe Grillo, was predicted to be in first place with up to 32.5 per cent of the vote.

However experts said a hung parliament was the most likely outcome after a coalition deal including former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, and two more extreme anti-migrant parties.

Their combined vote in the initial exit poll for TV channel RAI was estimated to be around 36 per cent. A centre-left alliance dominated by former prime minister Matteo Renzi’s ruling Democratic Party was projected to win around 28 per cent.

Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, pictured at a polling station on Sunday, whose Forza Italia party is part of a right-wing coalition estimated to have won 36 per cent of the vote

Polling day saw a bare-breasted protester confronting Mr Berlusconi as the scandal-hit tycoon staged a return to front-line politics. Leaping on to a table, the demonstrator shouted ‘time’s up’ as the flamboyant 81-year-old prepared to vote in the Italian elections.

The three-times former PM, famed for his louche ‘bunga-bunga’ parties, averted his eyes and was bundled out of the room by security guards. The woman was taken down from the table and ushered out.

Scrawled across her chest was the phrase ‘Berlusconi, your time has run out’. On her back was the word Femen, the name of a radical Ukrainian feminist group.

The incident took place as the self-styled godfather of Italian politics posed for photographers at a voting station in Milan.

The media mogul, whose fiancee Francesca Pascale is 32, joked: ‘She passed so quickly I didn’t get a chance to see her.’ Italians went to the polls amid a divisive election campaign dominated by concerns over immigration. Mr Berlusconi can’t hold public office until next year due to a tax fraud conviction.

The anti-establishment Five Star Movement, founded by controversial comedian Beppe Grillo (pictured), was predicted to be in first place

The anti-establishment Five Star Movement, founded by controversial comedian Beppe Grillo (pictured), was predicted to be in first place

But he has managed to manoeuvre himself into the position of power broker and has backed European Parliament president Antonio Tajani as his choice to lead the country. Polling day saw long queues at voting centres around the country caused by a new voting system and in-depth, anti-fraud checks. Mr Berlusconi has refashioned himself as a moderate, elder statesman, as well as an animal rights activist.

His four-party group is bolstered by two resurgent far-Right forces – the League and Brothers of Italy – which have capitalised on fears over the hundreds of thousands of migrants who have arrived by boat from Libya since 2013.

Mr Berlusconi’s party is expected to attempt to govern in a coalition with the League and Brothers of Italy. Analysts also said another scenario could be a grand coalition between the ruling Democratic Party and Forza Italia – a prospect that would reassure investors. An alternative – and potentially unstable – scenario could be a deal between the Five Star Movement and the far-Right League.

Immigration was thrust into the heart of the election campaign by the brutal killing of an 18-year-old woman in Macerata which was blamed on Nigerian migrants. It prompted a racist ‘revenge’ gun rampage by a committed fascist.

Parties of the Right have promised to expel ‘600,000 illegals’.