MILAN (AP) — Both a center-right coalition backed by former Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi and the populist 5-Star Movement claimed momentum going into a national election next year following the results of Sicily's regional vote on Monday.
Center-right candidate Nello Musumeci garnered 39.9 percent of the vote representing four parties including Berlusconi's Forza Italia and the Northern League, with most precincts counted.
"Sicily chose, as I asked, the road of change, of a true, serious and constructive change based on honesty, competence and experience," Berlusconi said.
But the 5-Star Movement also emerged stronger as the single largest vote getter with 34.7 percent of the vote. Former Premier Matteo Renzi's Democratic Party came in a distant third at 18.6 percent.
With fewer than half of Sicily's 4.6 million eligible voters casting ballots Sunday in the last major electoral test before next year's parliamentary election, the result restored the island's traditional political order after five years of center-left administration.
But on a national scale, it indicated the validity of center-right coalition that aims to unseat the Democratic Party-led government next year, made up of Berlusconi's Forza Italia, the anti-migrant, anti-EU Northern League and right-wing Fratelli d'Italia.
"In the regional election in Sicily, there are two winners and one loser. The two winners are the center-right and the 5-Star movement," said Giovanni Orsina, a political analyst at Rome's LUISS University. "What we do know is that the center-right is competitive and the 5-Star movement is not disappearing anytime soon."
5-Star Movement leader Luigi Di Maio said the result could propel the party to victory in the national election next year. So far, its biggest wins have been in Rome and Turin, both of which have been troubled administrations.
"A wave that will bring us to government is starting from Sicily," Di Maio said.
The Democratic Party, which has been further splintered following political missteps by Renzi, emerges badly bruised.
Renzi and Di Maio traded barbs when the 5-Star leader pulled out of a televised debate scheduled for Tuesday, saying that after the Democratic Party's poor showing, Renzi "was no longer our competitor."
In a lengthy Facebook post, Renzi called out Di Maio, who had proposed the debate, as someone "who is afraid to confront himself, who invents ridiculous excuses."
A previous version of this story corrected the number of those who voted Sunday to less than half the island's 4.6 million eligible voters, not some 4.6 million.