Little enthusiasm in Italy for electoral law referendum

Low voter turnout appeared set Monday to torpedo a bid in Italy to give larger political parties more power. By Sunday evening, at the end of the first of two days of voting, turnout stood at 16 per cent.

At least 50 per cent of the eligible 50.5 million voters must cast ballots to make the referendum valid. Polls were scheduled to close at 1300 GMT.

If approved, the referendum could pave the way for a two-party system, limiting the traditional role in Italy of smaller parties to play king-makers in the formation of coalition governments.

It would also bar candidates from running in more than one constituency.

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi initially backed the initiative, but did not campaign following pressure from the junior party in his conservative coalition, the mostly regional based, anti- immigration Northern League party.

Voting was also taking place Sunday and Monday in several local run-off elections, with Italy’s main centre-left opposition is seeking some respite from recent setbacks in local polls and in European elections.

In particular, the centre-left is trying to hold onto the province of Milan, one of its last remaining strongholds in Italy’s north where the centre-right dominates.

The centre-left is also seeking to keep control of the cities of Bologna, Florence, and southern city of Bari, where much of Italy’s attention is currently focused due to a probe on the alleged payment of women to attend parties hosted by Berlusconi.

The scandal has hit the 72-year-old media magnate turned billionaire, less than three weeks before he is set to host a summit of the Group of Eight most advanced economies.

Berlusconi, dismissing as “trash” newspaper reports on the probe, has rejected opposition calls to resign and says he still has the support of the majority of Italian.


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