Italians vote in local polls posing test fo…

NNA – Italians voted Sunday in regional elections seen as a key measure of the fading fortunes of ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi and an important test for center-left Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.

Twenty million voters are eligible to elect governors in seven of the country’s 20 regions, as well as the mayors of more than 700 municipalities.

The polls are the first in Italy, which is slowly emerging from recession, since European elections a year ago in which Renzi’s Democratic Party (PD) won with just over 40 percent of the vote.

Observers will also be looking closely at the battle on the right between the anti-immigration Northern League, led by rising star Matteo Salvini, and Berlusconi’s Forza Italia (Go Italy).

The 78-year-old media magnate is keen on making a political comeback after his acquittal on charges of paying for underage sex and a stint of community service for tax fraud.

Thirty elected members of Forza Italia have already announced their departure to join the man once considered Berlusconi’s heir apparent, Raffaele Fitto, who has broken away from the old leader.

A key test for Renzi will come in the northern region of Liguria, where the PD’s candidate faces rivals in both a left-wing dissident and the right-wing Giovanni Toti, supported by both the Northern League and Forza Italia.

At present, five of the seven regions holding elections are governed by the left, one is led by the League and another by Forza Italia.

In Campania in the south, the PD’s candidate Vincenzo De Luca, fighting the Forza Italia incumbent, has been named in a list of 17 “unpresentable” candidates by an anti-mafia commission.

De Luca has a conviction for abuse of power and faces trial on other charges, including fraud, and could be banned from taking office.

Although an embarrassment for Renzi, the 40-year-old premier’s popularity appears to remain high after nearly a year and a half at the helm.

Polls opened at 7:00 am (0500 GMT) and were to close at 11:00 pm, with results expected on Monday.–AFP

===============R.Z.