Italians are going to the polls in local elections that are a key test for scandal-hit Silvio Berlusconi and his government.
About a quarter of the population are eligible to vote but turnout is expected to be low because of disillusionment with politicians and the economy.
The most important contests are in four large cities including Naples. The left has never lost there but the right wing prime minister ended his campaign in the city, telling supporters victory was certain.
Opinion polls put Berlusconi’s popularity at about 30 percent, the lowest under his latest stint in power.
He has raised the stakes by attacking magistrates over the various trials in which he is embroiled, including the notorious Rubygate.
“I don’t think that the sex scandals of even his trials will have a great deal of effect on the elections,” said political analyst James Walston from the American University of Rome. “The elections are about confidence in Berlusconi, and he’s been working very, very hard on that over the last two weeks and specifically just before the elections. He’s pulled out all the stops to try and get his people his people out to vote, and that’s his most important thing.”
The elections are also an important test for the opposition Democratic Party under Pier Luigi Bersani. The centre-left has long struggled to find a leader with Berlusconi’s charisma.
“Never have local elections been so vital,” said Alberto Bombassei of the business leaders federation, citing the poor state of the economy. But, he added, politics was in a chaotic state.
“In such a grave moment at a global level, there must be coherence and convergence. Instead we are seeing continuous quarrelling,” he said.