ROME, June 12 (Xinhua) -- Italians delivered a stinging defeat to the populist, euro-sceptic Five Star Movement amid strong gains for both center-right and center-left candidates in mayoral elections across the country on Sunday.
This sparked speculation on Monday that the Five Star Movement, currently the number one party in Italy, may be losing traction ahead of the next general election, to be held at or before the end of the current legislature, in spring 2018.
The debacle of the Five Stars, who lost ground across the board and failed to make the runoffs in every major city in which they ran, breathed new life into both the center-left and center-right of the political spectrum in Italy.
"Over the past few years, the Five Stars have consistently come second and at times even first in opinion polls and elections alike," said Matteo Ricci, a leading figure from the ruling center-left Democratic Party.
According to recent opinion polls published on the TermometroPolitico (Political Thermometer) website, 30.1 percent of respondents favored the Five Star Movement, 26.1 percent opted for the Democratic Party, 13.2 percent liked Silvio Berlusconi's center-right Forza Italia, and 12.9 percent supported the rightwing, anti-immigrant Northern League.
Speaking in a televised morning news roundup on the party website, Ricci pointed out that "we've been in a tripolar framework for a while, and seeing the Five Stars collapse in every city in this way is surely the political takeaway from (Sunday's) election."
He ascribed this defeat to the "daily incapacity" of Rome Mayor Virginia Raggi, whose administration has been plagued by scandals and resignations since day one of her tenure, and of Mayor Chiara Appendino in Turin, where over 1,000 people were wounded in a stampede during a public screening of the UEFA Champions League Final on June 3.
While Italian media headlines unanimously spoke of the Five Star "defeat", "failure", and "flop", its leader, comedian Beppe Grillo, chose to see victory where others saw a fiasco.
"We have grown in all the cities in which we ran," Grillo wrote on his blog, which is where the Five Star Movement conducts its political business. These results point to a slow but inexorable growth," Grillo wrote.
A former Five Star member begged to differ.
The Movement is "incapable of self-criticism" and Grillo's justifications for the debacle are "outside the bounds of reality", said Federico Pizzarotti, the incumbent mayor of the northern city of Parma.
In 2012, Pizzarotti was the first Five Star candidate to conquer a provincial capital. Grillo suspended him in 2016 when he was probed for abuse of office. Pizzarotti was cleared, and left the Movement that same year.
In Grillo's native city of Genoa, a center-right coalition of the Northern League and Forza Italia garnered 36.34 percent of the vote, against just over 32 percent for a center-left alliance led by the Democratic Party and 17.47 percent for the Five Star Movement.
Northern League chief Matteo Salvini told public broadcaster RAI News24 that the real loser in Sunday's election was not Grillo, but the Democratic Party led by former premier Matteo Renzi.
"The Democratic Party is the big loser here," Salvini said. "Renzi has lost millions of votes along the way and dozens of mayors -- he treats Italians like sheep."
The turnout on Sunday was 60.07 percent of 9.2 million voters in 1,004 municipalities from North to South, according to Interior Ministry figures.
A runoff vote is to be held on June 25.