Italian election
A man casts his vote at a polling station in Milan, on 4 March. Reuters

Italy is heading towards a hung parliament after the country went to the polls on Sunday (4 March).

Exit polls suggest that the largest party will be the Five-Star movement, which looks like it will win around 30% of the votes although this is far short of the majority needed to govern.

A Five-Star official said if the polls were correct, the party would be "a pillar of the next government".

Founded in 2009 by comedian Beppe Grillo, it current leader Luigi Di Maio has pledged a universal basic income scheme.

The Democratic Party currently heading the government, was the next largest party,

Headed by Matteo Renzi, who quit as prime minister in 2016, it is part of a centre-left, pro-EU bloc that is vowing to revive the economy.

Next was the right-wing coalition of Forza Italia of the former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi and the anti-immigrant League each were polling at between 12.5% and 15.5% and looked set to get the most seats.

Although Berlusconi, 81, cannot himself hold public office until next year due to a tax fraud conviction, he has backed European Parliament President Antonio Tajani as his choice for leader.

The exit polls by the Piepoli polling agency have a margin of error of around 3% as well as a number of caveats. Seats are allocated by proportional representation as well as first-past-the-post meaning that percentages do not necessarily translate into number of seats.

As Europe's fourth-largest economy, the result will be closely watched in Brussels, concerned at the rise of far-right political factions and a spike in anti-EU sentiment, with the bloc being blamed for Italy's economic woes.

Italy's gross domestic product remains 5.7% lower than pre-crisis levels in 2008 and in 2016, some 18 million people were at risk of poverty, while the country's unemployment rate is 11%, the BBC reported.

Italian election
A woman looks at the list of the parties at a polling station in Rome on 4 March. Reuters