A protest party candidate made a strong showing in Sicilian elections seen as a test before Italy-wide elections in the spring to replace the technical government of Premier Mario Monti. The vote was also marked by sharply lower turnout.

With some 25 percent of the vote counted Monday, a center-left candidate led with 31 percent of the vote. The big surprise was the 17 percent garnered so far by the populist Five Star Movement launched by comic Beppe Grillo.

Only 47 percent of eligible voters cast ballots Sunday, down from 67 percent in the 2008 regional election.

The election was called following the resignation of Gov. Raffaele Lombardo amid concerns that the region risked insolvency and following his indictment on charges of Mafia association. He has denied the charges.