© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Interior Minister Matteo Salvini attends a news conference after a cabinet meeting at Chigi Palace in Rome

ROME (Reuters) – A centre-right candidate has won a regional vote in central Italy, with the ruling far-right League party surging ahead, while its coalition partner, the populist 5-Star Movement, lost ground, results showed on Monday.

The League, headed by Matteo Salvini, still runs with its traditional allies Forza Italia and Brothers of Italy in local elections, but governs at a national level with 5-Star.

The centre-right candidate, Marco Marsilio, won 48 percent of the vote in the mountainous Abruzzo region, the official count showed, while a centre-left coalition was ousted from power, gaining 31 percent of the vote.

5-Star trailed in third, taking 20 percent — far below the 40 percent it won in the region in last year’s national parliamentary ballot.

The League, buoyed in recent months by its uncompromising stance on immigration, scored almost 28 percent of the vote on Sunday against some 13.9 percent it took in Abruzzo in the March 2018 national election.

The anti-establishment 5-Star, which always runs alone at elections, has never managed to win power in a region, but has traditionally seen its vote count rise in national ballots.

The League and 5-Star alliance in Rome has appeared increasingly fractured in recent weeks, with disagreements bubbling up over a series of issues, including on the construction of an Alpine tunnel and even on who to support in the Venezuelan political crisis.

“It’s a vote in Abruzzo and I don’t think our 5-Star friends have anything to fear,” Salvini told reporters, playing down speculation political instability could rise on the back of the vote as 5-Star seeks to regain the initiative.

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“As far as I’m concerned, nothing changes,” added the League leader, who has become the predominant force in Italian politics since last March, thanks to a savvy use of social media and a folksy, plain-spoken approach that has appealed to many voters.

5-Star Transport Minister, Danilo Toninelli, said there was “a bit of disappointment” over the result, while 5-Star leader Luigi Di Maio has yet to comment.

Both parties see the upcoming European Parliament election in May as an important test that could affect the balance of power not only in Brussels, but also within the government.

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