Italian Premier Matteo Renzi's Democratic Party appears headed to victory in five of seven regions that voted for new leaders, but the real winners are the populist Northern League party and 5-Star Movement that showed strong gains.

The vote Sunday was marred by low turnout, with just half of eligible voters turning out on what was for many a long holiday weekend.

The Northern League, led by Matteo Salvini, won handily in Veneto, its traditional turf, and was heading toward victory in Liguria, long a Democratic Party stronghold, with a candidate backed also by Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia. Comic Beppe Grillo's 5-Star Movement also showed gains regionally.

Despite heading to five victories, Renzi failed to show the same strength as during last year's European Parliament elections.