Italy's anti-establishment 5-Star Movement suffered a resounding defeat in local elections, results released yesterday showed, even though national polls say it is the country's most popular party.
Five-Star candidates came in third or fourth in Parma, Verona, Palermo, L'Aquila, Catanzaro, Lecce, Taranto and Genoa, birthplace of the movement's founder, comic Beppe Grillo.
National elections are due in Italy by the first half of next year and could be held as early as this autumn, meaning Sunday's vote in 1,000 towns and cities was an important test of political strength.
The party had hoped to build on last year's election successes, when it took control of 19 large towns and cities, including Rome. But its rule in the capital has been mired in controversy, and its grassroots operations elsewhere have been snarled by internal feuding. Despite its local difficulties, the most recent opinion polls taken ahead of Sunday's vote say the 5-Star would win more than 30 percent in a national race, just ahead of the ruling Democratic Party (PD) led by former prime minister Matteo Renzi.
Most of the 5-Star candidates would have been new to government. Last year the 5-Star cast its victory in Rome, the nation's capital, as proof it was ready to govern. But Mayor Virginia Raggi has been dogged by legal scandals since taking office, and she has appeared slow to revive a city hobbled by years of corruption and economic decline.