By Gavin Jones
ROME (Reuters) – People in more than 100 Italian towns and cities voted on Sunday to pick municipal mayors in a run-off ballot that could bolster center-right parties ahead of a national election due in less than a year.
The vote could be a test of the current political mood in Italy, where a gradual economic recovery has not yet improved most Italians’ living standards or significantly cut unemployment.
Anti-European sentiment has increased in the country in the past few years, fueled by EU-imposed austerity policies and the waves of migrants arriving from north Africa which Rome feels it is being left alone to cope with.
The center-left government is also under pressure to tackle its latest banking crisis, scrambling to put together an emergency decree to wind down two Veneto-based regional lenders before bank branches and markets reopen on Monday.
In Sunday’s ballot, about 4.3 million voters are expected to go to the polls in municipalities that are still up for grabs because no candidate won more than 50 percent of votes in the June 11 first-round election.
Center-right candidates backed by the anti-immigrant Northern League and Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party won a strong showing in the first round, and were ahead in 13 of the 22 provincial capitals going to a run-off.
Center-left candidates backed by the ruling Democratic Party (PD) were ahead in six, while in three cities the leading candidate is an independent supported by neither side. Early turnout was low at 14.9 percent by midday (1000 GMT), down from 19 percent at the same time two weeks ago.
Italy’s national parliamentary election must be held by May 2018 but the broad coalition backing Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni is fragile and political analysts say an early vote this autumn cannot be ruled out.