Italy's Five Star suffers setback in local polls

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Rome (AFP)

Italy's anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S) suffered a big setback in local elections on Sunday after failing to make the runoff vote in almost all the big cities being contested.

It is a stark reversal of fortunes for the populist party and reduces its chances of leading the national government after parliamentary elections next year.

The anti-euro and anti-immigration M5S emerged as a major political force in 2013 and went on to score stunning local victories, including taking control of Rome and Turin last year.

But this time round, M5S candidates have failed to reach the second round in several major cities including Palermo, Verona and Genoa, the home town of comic Beppe Grillo, who co-founded the movement in 2009.

"In parliament and at the municipal level, Five Star has demonstrated that they are stronger when it comes to winning votes than governing," said Ettore Rosato of the ruling centre-left Democratic Party (PD).

"They do not make choices, they don't make decisions, or assume their responsibilities."

Nationally, M5S is the second biggest party behind the PD in parliament and opinion polls suggest the two parties are running neck and neck on around 30 percent.

Legislative elections are due to be held by February 2018.

But M5S has been beset by divisions, with this year's top candidate for Genoa abruptly dismissed by Grillo for not toeing the party line, prompting a fierce bout of internal squabbling.

In Rome, Five Star mayor Virginia Raggi also faced a series of resignations from her team and a colleague's corruption scandal, the sort of problems the movement -- that campaigned against corruption -- had promised to stop.

The final local election results, where voters chose mayors and councillors in more than 1,000 towns and cities, will be decided in a second round of voting in two weeks' time.