Rome–Large numbers of Italians disaffected with bickering politicians shunned regional elections on Sunday and Monday, threatening a poor result for Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.
"We are all a bit disgusted. I don’t have much of an opinion, but it’s clear they talked little about content and a lot about political infighting, which hasn’t pleased anyone," said Rome voter Armando Rizzo.
With more than 41 million people eligible to vote for the governors of 13 of Italy’s 20 regions, heads of four provinces and nearly 500 town halls, the ballot was seen as a gauge of support for Berlusconi two years into his third term.
The media tycoon campaigned exhaustively, urging supporters to avoid the low turnout of this month’s French regional elections which proved damaging for President Nicolas Sarkozy.
Turnout of first day of voting was 9 percent lower than the first day of regional elections five years ago, when 71.5 percent of eligible voters turned out in total.
Pollsters say voters are unhappy with politicians’ failure to address their biggest worry — the threat of job losses — during a campaign that focused on party infighting and a graft scandal involving a senior official close to the prime minister.
After a turbulent 2009 for Berlusconi marked by a divorce, prostitution scandals and legal battles to keep him out of court on corruption charges, he is now being investigated for allegedly trying to shut down TV talk shows critical of him.
Pollsters say mass abstentions would harm Berlusconi’s People of Freedom (PDL) party more than the center-left opposition, which was defeated by Berlusconi in the 2008 national election.
Asked why he believed turnout was so low, another Rome voter, Marco Stella, told Reuters: "It’s clear that people are fed up with all these political games."
Pollsters expect the center right to keep control of the Lombardy and Veneto regions in the industrial north and win Calabria and possibly Campania in the poorer south.
The center left should hold on to at least five regions, four of them in its traditional central heartland — Emilia Romagna, Tuscany, Umbria and Marche — and Basilicata in the south.
Four other regions, including Piedmont and the Lazio region which contains Rome, are too close to call.
Berlusconi’s party suffered a serious setback by missing a deadline for registering its list of candidates for Rome, handicapping its contender for governor of Lazio, Renata Polverini, against former European Commissioner Emma Bonino.
Besides the threat of a low turnout, the 73-year-old prime minister also faced strong competition for votes in the industrial north from his coalition partner, the anti-immigrant Northern League.
Polls point to the League winning in Veneto, neck-and-neck with the center left in Piedmont and performing so well in Lombardy that League leader Umberto Bossi talked openly this week about one day replacing the PDL’s current mayor of Milan.