ROM (AP) – Millions of people in Italy began electing new mayors on Sunday, including in Rome and Milan, in an election widely viewed as a test of political alliances before voting nationwide in just over a year.
The two voting days end on Monday and the first results are expected after that. But many voters will have to wait two weeks to find out who their mayor will be.
The runoff elections will take place from October 17th to 18th in communities with more than 15,000 people between the two frontrunners, if no single candidate receives more than 50% of the votes.
Runoff elections are expected in almost all mayoral elections in major cities, including Rome, Turin, Naples and Bologna. Milan Mayor Giuseppe Sala told supporters he believed they could win enough votes to grant him another five-year term without a runoff.
Around 12 million people or around 20% of the Italian population are eligible to vote in mayoral elections.
The mayor of Rome, Virginia Raggi, a prominent figure in the populist 5-star movement, is fighting hard for her office. Opinion polls showed that the likely two top candidates in the field of 22 candidates will be a democratic center-left candidate and a right-wing candidate supported by the leader of the anti-migrant league, Matteo Salvini, and the far-right leader Giorgia Meloni and her Brothers of Italy party with neo-fascist roots.
When Raggi took over the helm of the city in 2016, it inherited a mess and many of the Italian capital’s troubles persist. Mountains of uncollected rubbish were still ravaging the city, several subway stations were closed for months for maintenance, and aging buses were often broken and sometimes burned on their routes during their tenure.
In addition to voting, Raggi inspected the site of a fire that damaged a bridge on Sunday morning across the Tiber and a settlement of huts on the riverbank occupied by the homeless, another example of Rome’s chronic problems.
Salvini and Meloni, although officially right-wing allies, have assessed each other cautiously as they both have ambitions to become Italian prime ministers. Parliamentary elections are due in early 2023, but both heads of state and government are pushing to vote earlier.
The five-star movement, currently the largest party in parliament, suffers from internal bickering. Her newly elected leader, former Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, who has tried to heal the divisions, gave Raggi massive support and rejected the Democratic Party’s overtures to stand behind the Democrats who wanted to run for mayor of Rome.
The Democrats will likely need an alliance with the movement to counter the rising popularity of right-wing forces in national elections. After the national elections, alliances will be decisive for the formation of a government, because in Italy’s broken political spectrum, no party can count on a significant probability on its own.
Hence, the behavior of mayors’ campaign alliances in municipal races this month is being analyzed as a possible clue to the sentiment of Italians when they next vote for the national leadership.
“The competition (and the barometer) of the leaders” of the struggle of the political party leaders for advantages, it said in the headline of the Corriere della Sera on the vote.
Salvini’s League is a coalition member of Premier Mario Draghi’s unity government, formed earlier this year to lead the country through the COVID-19 pandemic. Meloni was the only great leader to refuse to join the unusual coalition that includes both technocrats and ministers from left, centrist, right and populist parties.
Since the five-star triumph in the last general election in 2018, the movement’s popularity in gubernatorial elections and public opinion polls has plummeted.
In southern Calabria, too, in the “toe” of the Italian peninsula, voters are electing a governor to replace a governor who died of cancer last year.