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

Associated Press logo Associated Press 12/06/2017 By FRANCES D'EMILIO, Associated Press
Five-Star Movement's leader Beppe Grillo casts his ballot for Italy's mayoral elections in Genoa, Italy, Sunday, June 11, 2017. Italy’s populist 5-Star Movement was seeking to expand power in mayoral elections being held Sunday in some 1,000 towns and small cities across the country. (Luca Zennaro/ANSA via AP) © The Associated Press Five-Star Movement's leader Beppe Grillo casts his ballot for Italy's mayoral elections in Genoa, Italy, Sunday, June 11, 2017. Italy’s populist 5-Star Movement was seeking to expand power in mayoral elections being held Sunday in some 1,000 towns and small cities across the country. (Luca Zennaro/ANSA via AP)

ROME — 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.

With a majority of ballots counted from elections a day earlier in some 1,000 small cities and towns, the 5-Star Movement had imploded in all big races, including in Genoa, home of its leader and founder, comic Beppe Grillo.

Voters thrashed the anti-euro movement, which bills itself as anti-establishment since supporters' online selections generally determine their slate of candidates.

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.

That credential might not have helped this time around. Rome Mayor Virginia Raggi's administration got off to a rocky start, dogged by transportation strikes, garbage pileups and scandals swirling around some of her appointees or aides.

Investors cheered the results from Sunday's races, bidding up Italian bonds in a sign of greater confidence in the country's financial future despite enduring economic sluggishness.

As the price rose on the benchmark 10-year bond, its yield — which moves in the opposite direction and is a gauge of investor caution about a country's public finances — fell 0.08 percentage points to 2.01 percent.

Grillo shrugged off the dismal results, which saw 5-Star candidates fail to win any runoff berths in the most significant races.

In a post on his blog, Grillo insisted the Movement's candidate would fare better in the election next month in Sicily for governor. And he set his sights on running a winning candidate when a parliamentary election, which will determine who becomes the nation's premier, are held — in spring 2018 or sooner.

"The aim is to govern" Italy, Grillo said. "Successes and failures belong to our history. What's important is to never quit."

The 5-Stars are Parliament's largest opposition force. The Democrats, the main partner in Premier Paolo Gentiloni's coalition government, are the biggest party in the legislature.

In all but one of the top cities up for grabs, candidates from center-right and center-left alliances earned berths in June 25 runoffs, since no one clinched more than 50 percent of the votes.

"Italy (for a day) is bipolar," quipped Corriere della Sera, in an analysis of how the alliances, more or less variations of political groupings that have ruled the country for the last two decades, had most of the successes in Sunday's races.

In the past, local election trends didn't always correlate to parties' fortunes in national elections.

Democratic Party leader Matteo Renzi tried to forge a deal with the 5-Stars to reform the law governing Parliament's election, but the agreement unraveled, leaving it unclear if Italians might elect their lawmakers before the spring 2018 due date, as the former premier had been hoping.

The only major city to elect a mayor outright Sunday was Palermo, where 40 percent is the threshold to win in the first round. Anti-Mafia maverick Leoluca Orlando won a fifth term, on a center-left ticket which encouraged support from civic groups.

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Carlo Piovano contributed to this report from London.

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