The leader of the 5-Star Movement, Luigi Di Maio, has said the party’s strong showing throughout Italy means that it should run the next government.

Mr Di Maio spoke less than an hour after the head of the League made the same claim on the part of the centre-right coalition, which collectively has more votes than the 5-Star Movement.

The assertions underline the difficulties that President Sergio Mattarella will have in choosing someone to form a government, as neither of the blocs has enough to govern alone.

Mr Di Maio said that “we are a political force that represents the entire nation. We represent the whole boot, from Val D’Aosta to Sicily”. He said the successes of the other groups were more regional.

He called the vote “post-ideological. It goes beyond the left and the right”, and instead turned on themes like immigration and work.

The 5-Star movement tripled the number of parliamentarians over the last election in 2013, when it was also the leading party but only by a hair’s breadth and the government went to the Democratic Party.

“The European Union is having a bad evening,” French far-right leader Marine Le Pen tweeted.

Former Ukip leader Nigel Farage also congratulated the 5-Star Movement.

The League was particularly strong in the north, its traditional base.

In Veneto, where it won 11 per cent of the vote in the last elections in 2013, it captured around 48% this time around.

The 5-Star Movement had a remarkably strong showing in the south, which has long been a stronghold of the centre-right and Forza Italia.

The leader of Italy’s right-wing eurosceptic League said his party’s surge at the voting booths was due to its economic proposals, not its anti-immigration stance.

Matteo Salvini said the migrant issue was just one problem facing Italy and that the League has clear ideas on how to resolve that.

Mr Salvini said voters were attracted by “the idea that Italy recovers, works, that every once in a while stays home on Sunday to enjoy its own children, have grandparents who don’t die in assembly lines”.

He said the shared European euro currency was ultimately destined to end. adding: “It’s a wrong currency and a wrong choice.”

Mr Salvini also cited his party’s proposals to overturn pension reforms, introduce a flat tax and cut bureaucracy.

Claudio Borghi of the League, formed as the Northern League in 1991 said the election results sent a clear message to Brussels.

“I think the will of the Italian people is very clear. The forces in favour of what Europe has done have been redimensioned. It’s a very strong message.”

Mr Salvini, who never has held public office in Italy, fed public anger at the EU’s inability to help handle hundreds of thousands of migrants who flooded the country in recent years after being rescued while crossing the Mediterranean Sea.

He tweeted “Thanks!” to his supporters as the results came in.

His group captured nearly 18% of the Italian national vote on Sunday, and the right-wing bloc of parties allied with the League won 37% overall.

With no faction winning a clear majority, the results confirmed that negotiations to form a new government that could win a confidence vote in parliament would be fraught. There have been 66 Italian governments since 1946.

“Ungovernable Italy” headlined daily newspaper La Stampa as the early numbers rolled in.

Mr Salvini’s party appeared to be surpassing its coalition partner, the establishment Forza Italia party of ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi.

According to the partial results, the League captured around 18% of the vote, while Forza Italia had less than 14%.

l German Chancellor Angela Merkel has welcomed her country’s coalition deal and says “it’s important that we start quickly with our work”.

Ms Merkel was speaking a day after the centre-left Social Democrats voted overwhelmingly to remain in a coalition with her conservative bloc, giving the chancellor the support needed to preserve her governing coalition and secure a fourth term as leader of Europe’s most powerful economy.

Parliament is expected to meet on March 14 to re-elect Ms Merkel as chancellor, ending the longest time Germany has been without a new government after elections in its post-war history.

The Social Democrats were initially reluctant to extend their coalition with Ms Merkel, but eventually agreed to a deal that gives them control of the foreign, labour and finance ministries – three major portfolios – in return for supporting curbs on immigration.