di Marcello Mento
Rome, February 26 - Italy faces the risk of being mired in political gridlock after Sunday and Monday's general election failed to produce a clear winner. Pier Luigi Bersani's centre left won outright control of the House, even though it only had 124,407 votes more (0.36%) than Silvio Berlusconi's centre right, thanks to the allocation of bonus seats that goes to the winning alliance. But it had only 119 seats in the Senate, with a handful of seats still to be assigned on Tuesday, compared to 117 for the centre right. Both blocs were distant from the magic number of 158 needed to have a working majority in the Upper House, in part because comedian Beppe Grillo's anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S) sent shock waves the system by making huge gains. To add to the confusion, Berlusconi's People of Freedom (PdL) party called for the seats in the House not to be allocated until the results had been checked because the difference between the centre left and centre right was "too close to call". Both the centre left and the centre right said they were not in favour of returning to the polls in the near future in order to get a clear winner. Berlusconi was open to the hypothesis of working with Bersani, but he ruled out striking a deal with the reform ticket of outgoing Premier Mario Monti. "I don't think it's useful in this situation (to vote again)," Berlusconi told one of his Mediaset TV channels. "Now we have to reflect for the good of Italy. "Someone is going to have to do with making some sacrifices, but Italy deserves to be governed". Although Berlusconi did not have enough seats to form an Italian government for the fourth time, he will see the result as good, as his coalition was trailing by double figures in the polls at the start of the campaign. The centre left, which had been leading in the the polls throughout the campaign, was stunned by the outcome though. "The shock and the pain are in all of our souls," said Laura Puppato of main centre-left Democratic Party (PD), who unsuccessfully ran in the primaries to head the whole coalition. Bersani is said to be considering his options and is set to hold a press conference later on Tuesday. "The centre left won in the House and it did in the Senate too in terms of the number of votes," Bersani said. "It's obvious to everyone that a very delicate situation has developed for the country. "We will manage the responsibilities that these elections have given us in the interests of Italy". The centre left won 340 seats on the House with 29.54% of the vote there, while the centre right took 124, despite being just behind with 29.18% of the votes. The only real victors were the M5S, which claimed 25.55% of the votes for the House, more than any other individual party, and winning 108 seat. Grillo's Internet-based movement, which won 54 seats in the Senate, tapped into public disenchantment with the established parties caused in part by a series of corruption scandals and by the political class's failure to address the country's economic ills. "We have become the biggest party in three years (since the movement was founded) without (public) money, without ever having accepted a single (electoral expense) reimbursement," Grillo said via Twitter on Tuesday. Monti, who took the helm of an emergency technocrat government after Berlusconi was forced to resign in November 2011 because Italy's debt crisis was threatening to spiral out of control, registered only 10.56% of the vote in the House. This won his alliance 45 seats there. It took 9.13% in the Senate, only just above the 8%-entry threshold, winning 18 seats. Nevertheless, he said he was happy. "Some people hypothesized a result that was slightly better, but I am very satisfied," said former European commissioner, who stressed that his Civic Choice movement was established less than two months ago. He added that his party's share of the vote was all the more important as the election produced an inconclusive result. "Given the current picture, I think we have acquired even more importance, if that's possible," said Monti.