ROME (Reuters) - A court in Sicily has suspended the results of an internal primary ballot by the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement, potentially disrupting its bid to win control of the island in an election in November.
The Palermo court on Tuesday accepted an appeal by a 5-Star member who had been excluded from the online vote to pick its candidate for regional president, due to a dispute over 5-Star's internal code of conduct.
The court will decide at a future hearing what action 5-Star must take, but its ruling is a setback for the maverick movement which hopes a victory in Sicily can pave the way to success at a national election due early next year.
A victory in Sicily would give 5-Star control of its first regional government, while a defeat would be the second blow this year after it fared badly in mayoral elections in June.
It is possible that 5-Star will have to repeat the online primary it held in July, which selected Giancarlo Cancelleri as its candidate for Sicilian president in the Nov. 5 election.
It is not the first time court rulings have tripped up 5-Star, which is still Italy's most popular party, according to most opinion polls.
In a similar case in April, a court in Genoa backed a 5-Star member who had been excluded from a primary ahead of mayoral elections in the city. That sparked a damaging split which contributed to a defeat in the home town of the party's founder, comedian Beppe Grillo.
5-Star's mayor of Rome, Virginia Raggi, has also been plagued by legal disputes involving her and her team since she was elected as the capital's first woman mayor in June 2016.
5-Star, which bases its appeal on a fight against corruption and cronyism among Italy's mainstream parties, has invested enormous political capital in the Sicily election.
Its most prominent national figures spent the summer touring the island with Cancelleri before the other parties had even picked their candidates.
According to opinion polls Cancelleri is running neck-and-neck with a candidate backed by a center-right coalition, with the center left's candidate lagging behind.
A post on Grillo's blog, the party's mouthpiece, said it would comply with whatever the court decided and its participation in the Sicilian election was not in doubt.
On Sept. 23 the party will announced its candidate for prime minister after another online vote of its members, with 31-year-old lower house deputy Luigi Di Maio widely expected to win.
(Reporting by Gavin Jones; Editing by Alison Williams)