Italy's political paralysis after the surprise result of the general elections has left investors and political commentators wondering what will come next.
Centre-left coalition leader Pier Luigi Bersani leads by just half a percentage point (29.54 percent) in the lower house of parliament, known as the Chamber of Deputies, from Silvio Berlusconi's centre-right alliance (28.18 percent).
Beppe Grillo's Five Stars movement is the largest single party, with 25.55 percent of votes cast (8,688,545 people).
Thanks to the nationwide 'majority prize', the coalition that obtains a majority of votes receives approximately 55 percent of seats in the lower house. So Bersani's coalition will get 340 deputies, whereas Berlusconi's will encompass 124, Five Stars 108 and Monti's coalition only 45.
Things are different in the upper chamber, known as the Senate. There, the majority prize is assigned on a regional basis. Berlusconi's coalition won in Lombardy - Italy's most populous region - as well as Sicily, Veneto, Campania and Puglia. Bersani leads in Tuscany, Emilia-Romagna, Trentino and Italy's other central regions.
Thus, Bersani's centre-left obtained only 120 seats, Berlusconi 117 and Five Stars 54. Monti's coalition managed to get only 18 seats The majority needed to form a government in the 315-seat Senate is 158 seats and that explains the current political gridlock. A political alliance between Bersani and Monti, as expected by commentators, is not sufficient to obtain the majority in the upper chamber.
The future is bleak
The new parliament will convene on Friday 15 March. Deputies in both chambers will be asked to elect their respective speakers. After that, President Giorgio Napolitano will start talks with all parties before choosing a prime minister.
Bersani's centre-left has an absolute majority in the lower but not in the upper chamber (Senate). That means it should be forced to seek an alliance with the Five Stars movement or Berlusconi to form a government.
If negotiations fail, Napolitano should call for a new vote to elect a different parliament. But Italy's president is in the last semester of his mandate - the so-called "White Semester". According to the Constitution, Italy's president is not allowed to call for new elections in that period.
The first parliamentary session to elect the successor of Napolitano is scheduled for 15 April. If Italian parties do not find a solution before that, the country will be without a government and without a president.