ROME (Reuters) - Italy's anti-establishment 5-Star Movement got some rare good news on Monday, when it upset expectations to elect its candidate as mayor in the Sicilian city of Ragusa after weeks of in-fighting and declining support in polls.
The result is a reminder of 5-Star's enduring appeal to millions of Italians. Its recent travails had led some commentators to predict a rapid demise after its stunning performance at February's national election when it won a quarter of votes cast.
Ragusa, in the south of the Mediterranean island, becomes the second provincial capital to be governed by the movement led by fiery former comic Beppe Grillo, after it won the northern city of Parma last year.
The party's candidate, Federico Piccitto, won 69 percent of the vote in a run-off against the candidate from the Democratic Party of Prime Minister Enrico Letta. In the first round of voting Piccitto had lagged with just 16 percent.
The boost was welcome after no 5-Star candidates made the run-off stage in Rome or any of the main cities at stake in a much larger round of local elections in May. The four-year old movement now has seven mayors, five of whom are in relatively small towns.
The party has had a rocky time since it rose to prominence on a wave of public disgust with traditional parties at the February election. Grillo has faced growing dissent among his rooky lawmakers, many of whom resent his authoritarian style and political strategy of uncompromising opposition.
On Monday lower house deputy Adriano Zaccagnini became the sixth elected representative to quit the party since February.
Grillo shunned the opportunity to be kingmaker after the election produced no clear majority, sticking with his pledge to make no alliances with traditional parties.
However, as Letta's government has shown signs of stabilizing 5-Star has looked increasingly isolated, weakened by its internal divisions, inexperience and a generally hostile domestic media.
Recent polls give the movement around 18 percent of popular support, down from the 25 percent it won at the election.
(Reporting by Gavin Jones; Editing by Michael Roddy)