Italy's Five Star suffers setback in local polls

Five Star Movement's leader Beppe Grillo casts his ballot for Italy's mayoral elections in Genoa Italy Sunday

Five Star Movement's leader Beppe Grillo casts his ballot for Italy's mayoral elections in Genoa Italy Sunday

Five-Star Movement's leader Beppe Grillo casts his ballot for Italy's mayoral elections in Genoa, Italy, Sunday, June 11, 2017.

Italy's anti-establishment Five Star Movement looked set to suffer a severe setback in local elections on Sunday, failing to make the run-off vote in nearly all the main cities up for grabs, early results and exit polls said.

5-Star bases much of its appeal on fighting corruption, its flagship policy is a "citizens wage" to help Italy's army of unemployed, and it promises a referendum on membership of the euro currency blamed by many for years of economic underperformance.

Defections have plagued the Democrats, the largest party in Parliament and senior partner in Premier Paolo Gentiloni's center-left coalition.

A multi-party deal on a new electoral law unraveled last week, making it highly unlikely that a snap national vote will be held this year.

But the failure to advance to the second round in any of Italy's major cities will be a disappointment for Grillo's party, which has been shown as neck-and-neck with the Democratic Party in nationwide opinion polls.

Unlike other non-traditional - so-called populist - parties that have flourished across Europe since the 2008 financial crisis, 5-Star straddles ideological divides.

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The likely losses at a local level contrast with the mayoral races of June 2016, when the party's candidates gained control of both Rome and Turin.

Unusually, the highest turnouts among large towns on Sunday were in the south, with 27 percent in Lecce, in the heel of Italy's boot, and 22 percent in Catanzaro, near the toe.

But if exit samplings prove accurate, voters delivered stinging defeats to the populists, keen on gaining the premiership for the first time via national elections due in 2018. The 5-Stars are fielding candidates in 225 of some 1,000 races.

The city is the home town of comic Beppe Grillo, who co-founded the populist movement in 2009.

The centre-left was ahead in L'Aquila, while its veteran candidate in the Sicilian capital Palermo, Leoluca Orlando, looked poised to be re-elected at the first round.

No one offered to be a candidate in San Luca, a remote town in the Calabrian mountains and dubbed the "mamma of the 'ndrangheta" crime syndicate for its notoriety as a stronghold of mobsters, Sky TG24 TV reported.

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