CATANIA - Sicilians cast their ballots Sunday in a regional vote seen as a barometer for Italy's general election next year, with the populist Five Star Movement (M5S) challenging a resurgent right as a divided left flounders.

"The vote is considered decisive not just by the party leaders pounding the streets of the main cities, and not just for the island's future, but for the future of Italy and even Europe," editorialist Marcello Sorgi wrote in La Stampa daily.

A victory in Sicily would give M5S its first region, a boost supporters say could propel it all the way to national leadership. "The choice is simple: us or them, the future or the past, hope or failure, citizens or traditional political parties", comedian Beppe Grillo, the movement's outspoken founder, wrote on his blog.

M5S candidate Giancarlo Cancelleri, 42, is expected to have just one real challenger for the victory podium: Nello Musumeci, 62, who was leading the race in recent opinion polls and could snap up the region for the right.

A bitterly feuding left is expected to fail to get anyway near the top. Analysts say the political dynamic on the Mediterranean island mirrors the situation nationally, and the vote is being closely watched in the eurozone's third-largest economy for indications of how the general election, due before May, will go.