Italians yesterday began voting to elect municipal mayors in a test of parties’ support ahead of a parliamentary election to be held by spring next year at the latest.
About 9 million voters are electing mayors in more than 1,000 towns and cities, with runoffs to be held on June 25 where no candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote in the first round.
The political climate ahead of the vote this week became even more febrile after a deal on electoral reform among the main parties broke down in parliament amid bitter recriminations.
The collapse of that accord seems to have reduced the chances of a snap election in the autumn, but the broad coalition backing Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni is fragile and analysts say an early vote still cannot be ruled out.
Although yesterday’s vote will be one of the last before the general election, local factors mean it might not provide a clear reflection of the parties’ national standings.
In many of the contests, the main parties have taken a back seat and chosen to camouflage themselves in broad coalitions rather than present individual candidates.
The largest city at stake is Palermo, where Palermo Mayor Leoluca Orlando, a veteran anti-mafia campaigner backed by Italy’s ruling Democratic Party (PD) and other center-left groups, is expected to see off his rivals from the center-right and the anti-establishment Five Star Movement.
A closer contest is expected in the northern port city of Genoa, where the center-right hopes to win control from the center-left. The city is home to comedian and Five Star founder Beppe Grillo, but the movement’s prospects there have dwindled due to an internal split.
The center-right, dominated by the Northern League and Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party, is favourite in Verona in the northeast, while the center-left is expected to keep control of L’Aquila, capital of the central Abruzzo region.
The PD and Five Star are running neck-and-neck nationally, according to opinion polls, but movement often struggles in local elections due to its loose organization and lack of high-profile candidates and it was expected to score few successes yesterday.
In the northern city of Parma, its first-ever mayor, elected in 2012, is running as an independent after falling out with the party leadership last year, and is favorite to win.
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