Berlusconis coalition ahead in Italy vote
Rome (AFP) - Media mogul Silvio Berlusconi's right-wing coalition was set to win the most votes but could fall short of a majority in Italy's election Sunday, with far-right and populist parties surging ahead, according to exit polls.
Berlusconi's grouping was expected to win between 31 and 41 percent of the vote, followed by the anti-establishment Five Star Movement with 29-32 percent, according to an exit poll by Rai public television.
The ruling centre-left Democratic Party, which struggled to get across its message of steady economic handling, was left in third place, according to the exit polls.
Anger at the hundreds of thousands of migrant arrivals in Italy in recent years fired up a campaign, along with frustration about Italy's slow economic recovery.
The boost for far-right and populist parties has drawn comparisons to Britain's vote to leave the European Union and the rise of US President Donald Trump.
"The European Union is going to have a bad night," Marine Le Pen, leader of France's National Front, tweeted.
The Five Star Movement and the far-right League party, a member of Berlusconi's coalition, are both eurosceptic.
"Everyone is going to have to come and speak to us," Alessandro Di Battista, a leading member of the Five Star Movement, told reporters at the group's Rome rally.
- 'Pure populism' -
The League, whose leader Matteo Salvini has been criticised for his Islamophobic rhetoric, was polling neck-and-neck with Berlusconi's Forza Italia (Go Italy).
One prediction said the League may even come first which would change the balance of power in the coalition.
Berlusconi, a flamboyant three-time former prime minister, cannot hold elected office because of a fraud conviction but has put forward European Parliament President Antonio Tajani as his prime ministerial nominee.
Salvini has said he should receive the prime ministerial nomination if his party comes in front -- a prospect that has spooked investors and European capitals.
The campaign was a gloomy one marred by clashes between far-right and anti-fascist activists, as well as a racist shooting spree by an extreme right sympathiser last month.