ROME (Reuters) - Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta's center-left Democratic Party held onto power in the southern region of Basilicata, election results showed on Tuesday, giving it a boost before it selects a new leader next month.
Turnout at Monday's election was low, but with all the ballots counted, the coalition behind the Democratic Party (PD) candidate for governor had three times as many votes as his rival supported by Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia.
The win bolsters the center left, which is in a stronger position after a failed attempt by Berlusconi to bring down Letta's fragile coalition government.
Votes for Berlusconi's center-right party, rebranded under its original name after last week's split, dropped to 12 percent from 19 percent in the last regional election in 2010. Direct votes for the center left also fell, but not by as much.
The result in one of Italy's poorest regions will have no direct impact on the national government but offers some encouragement to Letta after months of political instability.
His unwieldy coalition of left and right has struggled to pass reforms to reverse a prolonged decline in the euro zone's third-largest economy and has been hampered by squabbling with Berlusconi's party.
The revolt in Berlusconi's party last week, which saw a breakaway group of around 60 lawmakers split off from Forza Italia, has left the billionaire media tycoon without the numbers to bring down the government in parliament.
According to interior ministry figures, PD candidate Maurizio Pittella was elected governor of Basilicata, with the six leftist groups supporting him taking almost 60 percent of the vote. Their opponents, an alliance of Berlusconi's party and centrist groups, took a vote share of just 19 percent.
Turnout was 47.6 percent, sharply down from just under 63 percent at the previous election in 2010, reflecting increasing public disaffection with politics after more than two years of recession.
The 5-Star Movement led by comedian Beppe Grillo won 13 percent, well down on its score in the national election in February, when it rode a wave of disgust at traditional parties to win a quarter of votes.
The result comes as the PD prepares to elect a new party leader, who will be its candidate for prime minister at its Italy's next general election. Letta is not currently leader of his party.
Polls show charismatic Florence Mayor Matteo Renzi, 38, is the favorite to win party primaries on December 8 after he won 46 percent of a preliminary ballot of party members ahead of his nearest rival Gianni Cuperlo on 38 percent.
(Reporting by Naomi O'Leary; Editing by Catherine Evans)