Populists' surge in Italy stops in voting for Italy's mayors

Italian voters have rejected the populist 5-Star Movement in mayoral elections, favoring established center-left and center-right tickets, but its leader vowed Monday to press on until national power is achieved.

Until Grillo's Movement started gaining ground in the last few years, Italy's political scene had been dominated for a quarter-century by center-right coalitions, led by media mogul and former premier Silvio Berlusconi, and center-left alliances, now led by ex-premier and Democratic Party leader Matteo Renzi.

Candidates from the party founded by Beppe Grillo failed to make it to the run-off mayoral vote in any of the main contested cities at the weekend.

But a generally lackluster performance by 5-Star Rome Mayor Virginia Raggi, leading an administration dogged by scandals, has had many analysts wondering if the shine was fading for the Movement.

Only a year ago, the 5-Stars captured Rome's high-profile city hall, fueling the populists' ambitions to govern all of Italy when national elections are held.

Yet the movement only managed to attain 20% of the vote or less in most of the main cities, which stood in stark contrast to the strong victories scored in Rome and Turin in May previous year. Centrist-oriented parties fared better in the approximately 1,000 towns and cities that voted, with the second round scheduled for June 25.

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.

The collapse of that accord seems to have reduced the chances of a snap election in the autumn but the broad coalition backing Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni is fragile and analysts say an early contest still can not be ruled out. The city is home to 5-Star's founder, comedian Beppe Grillo, but the movement's prospects there have dwindled due to a local internal split.

In the northern city of Parma its first ever mayor, elected in 2012, ran as an independent after falling out with the party leadership past year.

The anti-euro party ran candidates in some 225 of 1,000 races.

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

Italians are electing municipal mayors on Sunday in a test of parties' support ahead of a parliamentary election to be held by next spring at the latest.

But Sunday's election appeared to follow a similar decline for anti-establishment groups, with the National Front in France and the anti-EU group UKIP in Britain both suffering poll failures this past week.

  • Leroy Wright