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Inconclusive election results roil Italy’s politics, economy

Voters stridently reject emphasis on austerity

ROME — Italian voters delivered a rousing antiausterity message and a rebuke to the political order in national elections Monday that threatened to plunge the country into political paralysis after early results failed to produce a clear winner.

Analysts said the best-case scenario would be a shaky coalition government, which would once again expose Italy and the eurozone to turmoil if markets question its commitment to measures that have kept the budget deficit within a tolerable 3 percent of gross domestic product. News of the stalemate sent tremors through the financial world, sending the Dow Jones industrial average down more than 200 points.

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Although analysts blamed the large protest vote on Italy’s political morass and troubled electoral system, the results were also seen as a rejection of the rapid deficit-reduction strategy set by the European Commission and European Central Bank — from a country too big to fail and too big to bail out.

“No doubt Italy has an imperfect political culture, but this election I think is the logical consequence of pursuing policies that have dramatically worsened the economic and social picture in Italy,’’ said Simon Tilford, chief economist of the Center for European Reform, a London research institute.

‘‘People have been warning that if they adhere to this policy there will be a political cost, there will be backlash,’’ he added. ‘‘It couldn’t have taken place in a more pivotal country.’’

In an election marked by voter anger and low turnout, the center-left Democratic Party appeared to be leading in the Lower House with 29.6 percent, with 99 percent of the votes counted, and in the Senate with one-third of the votes counted by midnight local time.

But that outcome did not give the Democrats a clear victory because the center-right People of Liberty Party of Silvio Berlusconi, former prime minister, was leading in several populous regions that carry more Senate seats, potentially giving him veto power and raising the prospect of political gridlock.

Even before the final result, the election was a clear victory for the Five Star Movement of the former comedian Beppe Grillo, which in its first-ever national elections appeared to win about 25 percent of the vote in the Lower House. Italians from right and left — and the wealthier north and poorer south — were drawn to Grillo’s opposition to austerity measures and cries to oust the political order.

And it was a stinging defeat for the caretaker prime minister, Mario Monti, a newly minted politician whose lackluster civic movement appeared to win around 10 percent in both houses.

“Grillo had a devastating success; the rest of the situation is very unclear,’’ said Stefano Folli, a political columnist for the daily business newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore.

Either the Democratic Party and the People of Liberty Party ‘‘will form a grand coalition committed to reforms and changing the electoral law, which would be very difficult, or Italy will be ungovernable,’’ Folli added.

Monti’s caretaker government remains in place with full powers until a new government is formed. Appearing on television Monday evening, Monti said he felt ‘‘tremendous regret’’ that during his tenure the political parties were not able to change Italy’s electoral law so as to guarantee more political stability. ‘‘It is a great responsibility of the political forces, and one of the reasons for the disaffection and distance from and the revindication of the political class,’’ he added.

Under Italy’s complex electoral laws, it is extremely hard for any one party to gain a strong ruling majority needed to manage an economy with rising unemployment and a credit crunch.

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