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Local elections test political, coronavirus mood in Italy

Italy's most important political names, from Mario Draghi and Matteo Salvini to Giorgia Meloni and Giuseppe Conte, are not even on the ballot papers. And yet the local elections on Sunday and Monday in 1,192 municipalities across the country - including the four largest cities of Rome, Milan, Naples and Turin - are immensely important as a test of the political mood for the major parties.

Rome, 3 October 2021 (dpa/MIA) – Italy’s most important political names, from Mario Draghi and Matteo Salvini to Giorgia Meloni and Giuseppe Conte, are not even on the ballot papers.

And yet the local elections on Sunday and Monday in 1,192 municipalities across the country – including the four largest cities of Rome, Milan, Naples and Turin – are immensely important as a test of the political mood for the major parties.

How satisfied are Italians with the government’s coronavirus policy and the restrictions it imposes? Can the parties represented in the Cabinet benefit from the good infection and vaccination figures? What will become of the popular, far-right opposition?

Above all, the vote by the more than 12 million Italians who are called to the polls could decide the future of the centre-right.

The far-right Lega with its riotous leader Salvini could finally be overtaken on the right by the Fratelli d’Italia (Brothers of Italy, FdI) led by Meloni.

In the forecasts, the two parties were recently tied: Whoever performs best nationwide will secure the claim to lead the far right of Italian politics.

There has been a lot of friction between the alpha animals Salvini and Meloni. Salvini’s Lega is represented in Prime Minister Draghi’s multi-party Cabinet, so the party leader had to try the balancing act between internal government loyalty and oppositional bluster at election rallies – and it failed. Party friends disagreed with him, some resigned from the Lega.

On Thursday, Salvini left a press event in support of the joint mayoral candidate in Milan annoyed because Meloni was late, due to a delayed flight.

On Friday, the two appeared demonstratively harmonious again in Rome, hugging for the cameras. “There is a political bond here,” Salvini said. “We are destined to govern together.”

Aside from the power struggle between the Lega and FdI – Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia has now been pushed into third place – to lead the right in future, it will also be interesting to see what Italians say with their votes about government policy in the coronavirus crisis.

Draghi recently pushed through several measures: From October 15, every employee in the private and public sectors will have to present a “green passport” as proof of vaccination, recovery from Covid-19 or a negative coronavirus test at the individual’s own expense.

A clear victory for opposition leader Meloni could be interpreted as a disapproval of Draghi’s policies.

If, on the other hand, the centre-left with the Democratic Party (PD) led by former prime minister and Draghi fan Enrico Letta prevails, the government can go into the next few months stronger.

However, the populist Five Star Movement (M5S), which was so ambitious just a few years ago, is in danger of being left behind: Five years after its victory in the capital Rome, Mayor Virginia Raggi could be voted out of office – and the movement is also likely to lose the mayoralty in Turin.

Polling stations are open on Sunday from 7 am to 11 pm (0500-2100 GMT) and on Monday from 7 am to 3 pm.

If no mayoral candidate achieves an absolute majority in the big cities, there will be a run-off between the two best-placed candidates two weeks later.

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