Bersani leads in Italy centre-left primary - exit poll

ROME, Nov 25 (Reuters) - The head of Italy's Democratic

Party, Pier Luigi Bersani, was in the lead after the primary to

choose the main centre-left candidate in next year's national

election, ahead of his main rival, Matteo Renzi, according to an

exit poll on Sunday.

The exit survey by the Piepoli polling institute for RAI

News 24, showed Bersani with 44 percent support, Renzi with 36

percent, and Nichi Vendola, governor of the southern region of

Puglia on 16 percent.

Bersani, 61, had been favourite to win the race before

voting began on Sunday, in part because of his control of the

Democratic Party (PD) machine and his support among the party's

core voters.

However a stronger-than-expected turnout in the primary,

which was not restricted to PD members, increased expectations

that Renzi, the 37 year-old mayor of Florence, would do well

because of his appeal to voters outside the party.

Results are expected later on Sunday evening. If none of the

five candidates in the primary wins an absolute majority after

Sunday's vote, a run-off vote between the two leaders will be

held on Dec. 2.

(Reporting by Catherine Hornby and James Mackenzie; Editing by

Jon Hemming)

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