EXIT polling from the Italian general election on March 4th signalled that the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S) had emerged as far and away the largest political force in the country and that mainstream parties of left and right could expect chastening reverses. If the exit polls are borne out in the final results—and they have a disappointing track record in Italy—the M5S and its 31 year-old prime ministerial candidate, Luigi Di Maio, will have won more seats than any other party, and may therefore be given the first chance to attempt to form a government. But with no party, or electoral grouping, looking likely to have won a majority of seats, Italy may have to wait a good few weeks to find out what kind of government it will get next.

The only nationwide true exit poll was conducted for the RAI, Italy’s public broadcaster (other polls included voting intentions). It assigned a range of 29.5-32.5% to the M5S in the vote for the lower house, the Chamber of Deputies; 20-23% to the centre-left Democratic Party (PD), which is the dominant partner in the incumbent coalition and 12.5-15.5% to Silvio Berlusconi’s centre-right Forza Italia party—the same range given to the more radical, populist Northern League. Unlike the M5S which stood alone, the PD formed part of an electoral alliance that was forecast to take around 26% of the vote. Forza Italia and the League contested the ballot in a right-wing coalition, including a smaller far-right party; that coalition was seen as taking between 33% and 36%.

An additional factor complicating predictions of the eventual balance in parliament is that Italy is using a new electoral system in which approximately two-thirds of lawmakers are chosen by proportional representation, while the remainder are elected on a first-past-the-post basis. It has been estimated that a party or alliance will need around 40% of the vote to command an outright majority. But pollsters warn that this is anyway an approximate figure. Even so, it is unlikely that the share that RAI’s poll allotted to the right would translate into control of parliament, especially since Italian governments need majorities in both chambers in order to secure the passage of legislation.

Signs of a swing towards the M5S emerged earlier as turnout figures came in showing high volumes of participation in the south where the maverick movement is strongest. Founded by a comedian, Beppe Grillo, the M5S refuses to define itself as either left- or right-wing—terms it argues have become outdated. Mr Di Maio recently shelved its demand for a referendum on Italy’s membership of the euro, but there is still plenty in its electoral programme to rattle markets, notably proposals that would add several tens of billions of euros to Italy’s budget deficit and its already dauntingly high public debt, of around 130% of GDP.

An additional concern is that taken together, the various anti-EU parties—Five Star, the League and the far-right Brothers of Italy—look to have won close to or even slightly above 50% of the vote.