Italy's populist Five Star Movement (MS5) looks set to lose control of Rome and Turin, according to exit polls.
The centre-left Democratic Party (PD) is projected to have come out first in both cities, with estimates of 28% in the capital and 44.3% in Turin. The MS5 incumbents are meanwhile both expected to come in third and thus not contest the second round.
Left-wing parties are also on track to retain control over Milan, where the incumbent centre-left mayor Giuseppe Sala is seen winning over 56% of votes, and Naples, where Gaetano Manfredi, an independent supported by both PD and MS5, is projected to secure 62% of the vote — both scores high enough to negate the need for a second round if confirmed.
First partial actual results were expected a few hours after the polls closed at 3 p.m. Runoffs will be held on Oct. 17-18
The poor scores for MS5 could spell trouble for Guiseppe Conte, the former prime minister recently elected leader of the party. Conte rebuffed overtures from the left, notably from the PD, for a campaign alliance to keep the rising right-wing political forces out of Rome's City Hall.
Among the cities where candidates backed by both the 5-Stars and the Democrats appeared headed to victory without needing runoffs were Naples and Bologna, according to state TV projections.
The municipal by-elections are not a test for Mario Draghi's government but they are a measure of the balance of power between the different parties, whether they are part of his coalition or not, with the right-wing seemingly suffering a severe setback.
With national elections due in early 2023, Democrat Party leader Enrico Letta, a former premier, has been trying to convince the Movement to consider campaign alliances in voting for Parliament. He is determined to shut out of Italy's next government the right-wing forces which in past years have been gaining in popularity.
How anti-migrant Matteo Salvini's right-wing League party fares in races in Italy's south was being closely watched as a litmus test of whether he can definitely convert his north-based political power into a nationwide force.