Centre-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, 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.
Although Sunday’s vote will be one of the last before the general election, local factors mean it may not provide a clear reflection of parties’ national popularity.
In the first round, the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement only reached the run-off in one of the main 25 towns and cities but is Italy’s most popular party at a national level, according to many opinion polls.
Nevertheless, Sunday’s result could serve as a call to unify among the centre-right parties, which are in competition at the national level.
Their strong first-round showing suggests that if the parties can unite under a single leader they would be a force to be reckoned with at the general election.
Sunday’s most closely watched contest will take place in the northern port of Genoa, a traditionally left-wing stronghold that could fall to the centre-right for the first time in 50 years, with a candidate backed by the Northern League ahead after the first round.