The initial polls suggest Italy is heading for serious political gridlock and potentially a hung-Parliament, but the centre-right are ahead.
Matteo Salvini, the Lega leader, tweeted: My first word: “Thank you!”
Lega official Giancarlo Giorgetti said: “These are historic results for the Lega. We’re picking up votes from North to South.
“We had 4 percent in 2013, now projections say 16 to 17 per cent, perhaps more. We’ll discuss things with our allies but this is a historic moment for the Lega.”
Experts in Italy are pointing to the stunning performance of Mr Salvini’s Lega.
He took over the Party four years ago and has rebranded the party as a classic populist movement, anti-immigrant and anti-Europe.
The success has seen him potentially overtaking Berlusconi’s Party and edging the Democrats.
According to the first projections for the Senate based on sample counted votes by SWG, Five Star has the most votes with 33.1 per cent, the Democratic Party have 18.7 per cent, Leaga has 17.3 per cent and Forza Italia have 14.1 per cent.
If this projection is correct then it would be a major upset for Forza Italia and the Democratic Party, the two establishment parties.
No Party is projected to win enough of the vote to form an overall majority.
But under the “gentleman’s agreement” reached by Mr Berlusconi and Lega’s Mr Salvini, if the center-right wins a majority of votes, whichever party comes out with the most votes within the coalition will name the next prime minister.
The current projection would strengthen Five Star’s position in Parliament and the League within the centre-right coalition.
Berlusconi’s centre-right alliance is the strongest group and will win a bigger share of the vote than the 5 Star Movement and the centre-left coalition.
Full results are not expected for several hours and Italian exit polls have given misleading initial readings in the past.
Under Italy’s new electoral law, parties are expected to need around 40 percent of the vote to secure a majority in parliament.
Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia has allied itself to anti-immigration, anti-Islam parties across Europe.
A top official of Italy’s ruling Democratic Party (PD) said after national elections on Sunday that if exit polls proved correct his party will have been defeated and will go into opposition.
The PD got around 21 percent of the vote, some 10 points behind the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement and even further behind a centre-right coalition, the exit polls suggested.
PD lower house leader Ettore Rosato said: ”If this is the result, for us it is a defeat and we will move into the opposition.”