Italy defies virus for vote as far-right plots seismic change

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Former interior minister Matteo Salvini and Lega party leader is a part of a centre-right coalition fighting the regional elections.  PHOTO;  AFP

ROME  —  Italians head to the polls Sunday — to the alarm of coronavirus experts — for a referendum and regional elections that could weaken the government and radically reshape the political landscape.

Just a week after a Herculean effort by schools to reopen in line with last-minute Covid-19 rules, classrooms across the country will be shut to pupils and transformed into ballot stations for the two-day vote.

A triumph for the far-right in this fiercely fought campaign would sound alarm bells in Brussels.

It will be the first test for Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte’s centre-left coalition government since it imposed an economically crippling nationwide lockdown to fight the virus, which has killed almost 36,000 people.

The referendum, on slashing the number of members of parliament — from 630 to 400 in the lower house, and 315 to 200 in the upper house — is expected to pass, though there has been a late uptick in the number of prominent ‘no’ declarations.

The cost-cutting reform is the brainchild of the co-governing Five Star Movement (M5S), but while its centre-left coalition Democratic Party (PD) partner and parties on the right are theoretically in favour, their support has been lacklustre at best.

– Uncertain future –

The regional battle is for governance of Campania, Liguria, Marche, Puglia, Tuscany, Valle d’Aosta and Veneto.

The right-wing coalition is set to easily retake Veneto and Liguria, and it could also snatch Marche and Puglia from the left.–AFP

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