ROME (Reuters) - A centre-right candidate is poised to win a regional vote on the Italian island of Sardinia, replacing a centre-left administration and underscoring the struggles of the ruling 5-Star Movement, partial results showed on Monday.
The centre-right coalition includes the League party, headed by Matteo Salvini, which still runs with its traditional allies Forza Italia and Brothers of Italy in local elections, but governs nationally with the populist 5-Star.
The League/5-Star partnership is straining under an inversion of political fortunes, with the League surging nationally to about double the result it won in last year's vote, while the 5-Star has lost support.
The centre-right candidate Christian Solinas, a League senator, took around 47 percent in the Sunday vote, according to a very early tally, with the centre-left at about 35 percent and 5-Star at 10 percent -- far below the 42.5 percent it got on the island in last March's national election.
An exit poll released after voting closed on Sunday suggested a closer race between the centre-right and centre-left candidates, with 5-Star trailing in a poor third.
"We must not over-emphasize a regional election," Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte told reporters on the sidelines of an international summit in Egypt. "I don't believe that the results could have any consequences for the national government."
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.
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.
5-Star, which always runs without allies at elections, has never managed to win power in one of the country's 20 regions, and has traditionally fared much better in national ballots.
Nonetheless, if confirmed, the Sardinia result would represent another blow to the group, which suffered a similar reversal in the region of Abruzzo earlier this month.
By contrast, the vote looks like another step forward for Salvini, who has been buoyed in recent months by his uncompromising stance on immigration and has worked hard to build support for the League beyond its northern heartlands.
(Additional reporting by Angelo Amante, writing by Steve Scherer, editing by Crispian Balmer)