Italians headed to the polls yesterday — to the alarm of virus experts — for a referendum and regional elections that could weaken the government and radically reshape the political landscape.
Just a week after a Herculean effort by schools to reopen in line with last-minute COVID-19 rules, classrooms across the country were shut to pupils and transformed into ballot stations for the two-day vote.
A triumph for the far-right in the fiercely fought campaign would sound alarm bells in Brussels.
It was the first test for Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte’s center-left coalition government since it imposed an economically crippling nationwide lockdown to fight COVID-19, which has killed 35,692 people in the country.
The referendum, on reducing the number of members of parliament — from 630 to 400 in the lower house and 315 to 200 in the upper house — was expected to pass, although there has been a late uptick in the number of prominent “no” declarations.
The cost-cutting reform is the brainchild of the cogoverning Five Star Movement, but while its coalition partner the Democratic Party (PD) and parties on the right were theoretically in favor, their support has been lackluster at best.
The regional battle was for governance of Campania, Liguria, Marche, Puglia, Tuscany, Valle d’Aosta and Veneto.
The right-wing coalition was expected to easily retake Veneto and Liguria, and it could also snatch Marche and Puglia from the left.
However, all eyes were on Tuscany, a historic left-wing stronghold that might fall to Matteo Salvini’s far-right League.
“If the left performs particularly poorly ... Brussels will grow concerned,” Berenberg economist Florian Hense told reporters.
It would worry whether the national recovery plan Italy has to present to obtain grants or loans to aid its ailing economy after the COVID-19 lockdown “will be ambitious enough, given the limited political capital of the coalition in Rome,” he said.
“And whether, whatever plan Italy comes up with, it will actually implement it given the uncertain future of the current coalition,” he added.
The poll went ahead despite warnings against opening polling stations while COVID-19 case numbers are on the rise.
While Italy has fewer new cases than the UK, France or Spain, it is still recording more than 1,500 daily.
“The country is in a state of emergency; it is utterly contradictory to be massing people together at polling stations, particularly in light of the trend in Europe,” Massimo Galli, infectious diseases chief at Milan’s Sacco hospital, told reporters.
He has said that holding the elections now would be “madness.”
However, some precautions have been taken, with elderly and pregnant voters getting fast-track lanes to vote.
With older people potentially put off voting by the health risks, the left has been organizing special transport.
One in three of voters for the PD and League are over 65 years old, the Corriere della Sera daily has reported.
Nearly 2,000 voters in isolation due to the coronavirus have also registered to have their votes collected, including former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi.
However, fear of catching the virus from voters obliged to pull down their masks to allow them to be identified has seen a flurry of last-minute desertions by polling station volunteers.
Milan was on Saturday forced to call urgently for 100 fresh pairs of hands.
Conte has clinched a behind-doors deal with PD leader Nicola Zingaretti to fight to save each other’s political skins should the left perform disastrously, the Repubblica has reported.
That might not be enough.
“These elections are not going to topple the government,” political commentator Barbara Fiammeri for the Sole 24 Ore daily told reporters.
“But there could well be a crisis, whether it be Conte’s fall, the forming of new coalition, or even a national unity government,” she said.
LIFE GOES ON: After a strict lockdown that left millions on the brink of starvation, Indians embrace work to avoid starvation and get ready for several major festivals India is on course to top the world in COVID-19 cases, but from Maharashtra’s whirring factories to Kolkata’s thronging markets, people are back at work — and eager to forget the pandemic for festival season. After a strict lockdown in March that left millions on the brink of starvation, the government and people of the world’s second-most populous country decided life must go on. Sonali Dange, for instance, has two young daughters and an elderly mother-in-law to look after. She was hospitalized this year in excruciating pain after catching the novel coronavirus. However, after the lockdown exhausted the family’s savings, the 29-year-old had
A COVID-19 outbreak among hundreds of Russian and Ukrainian fishers flown to New Zealand to bolster its struggling deep-sea fishing industry has prompted that country’s largest daily increase in infections in months, authorities said yesterday. More than 230 fishers were flown in from Moscow last week, with 18 of the crew members then testing positive for COVID-19 while in quarantine, New Zealand Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said. The Pacific nation has almost eliminated local transmission of the virus, but regularly records small numbers of new cases in returned travelers. The fishing cluster pushed the daily tally of new infections to 25,
From monitoring vital signs to filtering filthy air and even translating speech into other languages, the COVID-19-fueled boom in mask-wearing has spawned an unusual range of high-tech face coverings. As masks become the norm worldwide, tech companies and researchers are rolling out weird and wonderful models to guard against infection and cash in on a growing trend. One of the wackiest comes from Japan, where start-up Donut Robotics has created a face covering that helps users adhere to social distancing and also acts as a translator. The “C-Face” mask works by transmitting a wearer’s speech to a smartphone via an app, and allows
JAPAN Deer-edible bags invented The deer that roam Nara no longer face discomfort — or far worse — after local firms developed a safe alternative to the plastic packaging discarded by tourists that often ended up in the animals’ stomachs. Last year, several of the 1,300 deer that wander around the ancient capital’s central park were found dead after swallowing plastic bags and food wrappers. Firms collaborated to develop bags that pass safely through the animals’ complex digestive system. The bags are made with recycled pulp from milk cartons and rice bran, one of the main ingredients of the shika senbei savory