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FILE PHOTO: Former Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi gestures as he talks during a meeting of Democratic Party (PD) in Rome, Italy February 19, 2017. REUTERS/Remo Casilli/File Photo

(reuters_tickers)

By Gavin Jones

ROME (Reuters) - Italy's ruling Democratic Party (PD), hit by internal divisions and a banking scandal, is continuing to slide in opinion polls, with a new survey on Saturday putting it more than six points behind the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement.

The survey by the Ixe agency, commissioned by Huffington Post Italia, comes just days before parliament is expected to be dissolved to make way for elections in March.

It gives the centre-left PD just 22.8 percent of voter support, down almost five points in the last two months, compared with 29.0 percent for 5-Star, which has gained almost two points in the same period.

Silvio Berlusconi's centre-right Forza Italia (Go Italy!) is given 16.2 percent, with its right-wing allies the Northern League and Brothers of Italy on 12.1 percent and 5.0 percent respectively.

This bloc is expected to win most seats at the election but not enough for an absolute majority, resulting in a hung parliament.

With the PD's support eroding in virtually all opinion polls, several political commentators have speculated that its leader Matteo Renzi may choose or be forced to announce he will not be the party's candidate for prime minister at the election.

Renzi has given no indication so far he will take this step.

The PD has split under his leadership, with critics complaining he has dragged the traditionally centre-left party to the right.

Breakaway groups united this month to form a new left-wing party called Free and Equal (LeU), which now has 7.3 percent of support, according to Ixe.

The PD's popularity seems to have also been hurt by a parliamentary commission looking into the collapse of 10 Italian banks in the past two years.

The commission's findings have put the PD on the defensive, allowing the opposition to claim a conflict of interest involving one of Renzi's closest allies who was active in trying to save a bank where her father was a board member.

(Editing by Andrew Roche)

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Reuters