Italy's 5Star Movement, the populist challenger to the country's established parties, suffered a shocking defeat on Sunday, lowering the risk of snap elections being called in 2017, according to analysts.
5-Star bases much of its appeal on fighting corruption, its flagship policy is a "citizens wage" to help Italy's army of unemployed, and it promises a referendum on membership of the euro currency blamed by many for years of economic underperformance.
"In parliament and at the municipal level, Five Star has demonstrated that they are stronger when it comes to winning votes than governing", said Ettore Rosato of the ruling centre-left Democratic Party (PD).
Initial counts showed its candidates coming third or fourth in many cities including the home of the movement's founder, Genoa.
Sunday's vote was the last time Italians will go to the polls before general elections expected early next year, and were seen as a key test for the main parties.
Unlike other non-traditional - so-called populist - parties that have flourished across Europe since the 2008 financial crisis, 5-Star straddles ideological divides.
Observers are closely watching the port city of Genoa which has been governed for years by mayors from the center-left but is coveted by the anti-establishment 5-Star.
The local races "put the brakes on the Movement's" rise, headlined La Stampa, the daily in Turin, a major city where only a year earlier the triumph of the populists' candidate there for mayor fueled 5-Stars' national ambitions.
The opposition 5-Stars are the second largest force in the legislature and aim to gain their first premiership in elections due by 2018.
Unusually, the highest turnouts among large towns on Sunday were in the south, with 27 percent in Lecce, in the heel of Italy's boot, and 22 percent in Catanzaro, near the toe.
Leoluca Orlando, a center-left figure who made his name as an anti-Mafia maverick in the 1980s, is running for a fifth mandate as mayor of Palermo, Sicily, a stiff challenge for the 5-Stars.
Most of the 5-Star candidates would have been new to government.
It has no incumbent mayors among the 25 largest towns going to the polls, where 15 are from the center-left, five from the center-right and the remainder unaffiliated.
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