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Italy's League set for big regional victory, bolsters national standing

ROME (Reuters) - The far-right League looked set to secure a resounding victory in a regional vote in northeastern Italy on Monday, bolstering its standing as parties struggle to form a national government.

FILE PHOTO: League party leader Matteo Salvini speaks to the media in Rome, Italy, April 5, 2018. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi/File Photo

Initial results from Sunday’s ballot in the region of Friuli Venezia Giulia showed a center-right alliance, led by a local League politician, on course for a clear-cut win, while the center-left and anti-system 5-Star Movement trailed in its wake.

If confirmed, the result would suggest League leader Matteo Salvini has gained political clout after eight weeks of deadlock following last month’s inconclusive parliamentary election.

Heading into Sunday’s regional vote, Salvini had predicted that his chances of putting together a coalition government would be enhanced if his party triumphed, although there was no indication yet that such a breakthrough was in the making.

With more than half the votes counted in Friuli Venezia Giulia, the center-right, led by the League’s Massimiliano Fedriga, was on 56 percent, while the candidate for the center-left Democratic Party (PD) was on some 28 percent.

The 5-Star candidate was seen winning just 12 percent.

In a further boost for Salvini, the League looked certain to be crowned as the largest single party, gathering support of more than 33 percent of voters. Its main ally in the center-right, Forza Italia, was on 12 percent.

At the March 4 national election, the League took 25.8 percent of the vote in the same region, 5-Star 24.6 percent, the PD 18.7 percent and Forza Italia, led by former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, 10.7 percent.

The 5-Star regularly underperforms at a local level, but its weak showing in Friuli Venezia Giulia suggested it had failed to capitalize on its strong showing last month, when it emerged as easily the largest single party in Italy.

Flushed by that success, 5-Star leader Luigi Di Maio has been courting both the right and the center-left in an effort to secure a coalition government, but to no effect thus far.

Di Maio has said he would like to strike an accord with the League, but insists it should first abandon its ally Forza Italia -- something Salvini has refused to do.

Efforts to enter into government talks with the center-left risk falling at the first hurdle, with PD bigwig Matteo Renzi urging his party to shun any such move.

If the 5-Star/PD initiative fails, President Sergio Mattarella will have few cards left up his sleeve.

One would be to try to put together a broad government of national unity to carry out electoral reform. The other would be to call new elections for the autumn.

Sunday’s vote suggested the League would fancy its chances in any new ballot, while other parties might be more hesitant over any rush back to the polls.

“If the League and the center-right win (in Friuli Venezia Giulia) you’ll see that the government will come soon. Someone will stop being so cocky and we’ll finally get to work,” Salvini said earlier this month, referring to Di Maio.

Reporting by Crispian Balmer; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg