Two anti-establishment leaders made early plays to govern Italy, triggering concern in the euro zone following an inconclusive election where voters shunted mainstream parties to the sidelines.
With the euro zone's third-largest economy seemingly facing prolonged political instability, the anti-immigrant League claimed the right to rule after its centre-right alliance won the largest bloc of votes.
"We have the right and duty to govern," League leader Matteo Salvini told a news conference on Monday.
Investors should have no fear, he said, but the prospect of a eurosceptic-led administration promising to ramp up spending hit shares, bonds and the euro.
Luigi Di Maio, the head of the biggest single party, the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement, said his group had emerged as the clear winner on Sunday, capturing around a third of the vote, and should take the helm of the next government.
"We're open to talk to all the political forces," 31-year-old Luigi Di Maio said in a statement. "We feel the responsibility to give Italy a government (as) ... a political force that represents the entire nation."
With the vote count almost complete, none of the three main factions had enough seats to govern alone.
President Sergio Mattarella is expected to open formal coalition talks in April, with early elections possible if no accord is found.
The ruling centre-left Democratic Party (PD) suffered a crushing defeat, prompting former prime minister Matteo Renzi to resign as party leader. But he said the PD would play no part in the next administration.
"The Italian people have asked us to be in opposition and that is where we will go," he told reporters.
"We will never form a government with anti-system forces," he added, referring to the 5-Star and the far-right League.
The rightist alliance that also includes former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia was on course for about 37 per cent of the vote - but for the first time the League emerged as the senior partner.
The role reversal marks a bitter personal defeat for the billionaire media magnate and his party, which took more moderate positions on the euro and immigration while the League campaigned on a fiercely anti-migrant ticket.
Berlusconi, who has not been seen in public since the vote, met Salvini on Monday in his villa near Milan.
Afterwards, Forza Italia said it was open to welcoming in other parties to create a centre-right government, but it was not clear where such support might come from, with the bloc seen some 49 seats short of a majority in the 630-seat lower house.
Before the encounter, Salvini told reporters that, while not interested in a broad "minestrone" coalition, the League would be willing to talk to all parties.
The party's economics chief Claudio Borghi said their first contact would be with 5-Star.
Australian Associated Press