Italy's left wing leads on eve of local polls: Tomorrow's elections are another stage in transforming the political scene after the corruption scandals

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The Independent Online
THE MAYOR of Naples who will greet leaders of the G7 summit there next summer could well be the granddaughter of Benito Mussolini, Italy's fascist dictator. The mayor of Rome may be a left-wing Green who put-puts through the city's choking, jammed-up streets on a white scooter.

The mayor of the Sicilian capital of Palermo will almost certainly be a sworn enemy of its biggest industry and most feared power, the Mafia, who has to be protected round the clock by guards with guns.

More than 11 million Italians will vote tomorrow in municipal elections which will be another important stage in the transformation of the political scene after the corruption scandals and the collapse of the old ruling parties. To a certain extent - although everything is still in a state of flux - they will serve as pointers to general elections likely early next year.

All eyes are on the six main cities that are voting - Rome, Naples, Palermo, Genoa, Venice and Trieste. All are in a state of crisis, either economic or environmental or both, neglected by an often deeply corrupt political class concerned primarily with feathering its own nest. In Naples and Palermo, and possibly Rome, corruption has gone so deep it will be a superhuman task to root it out.

The latest poll, for the Channel One radio news, has left-wing candidates leading in all six. In most cases they are people backed by alliances including the former Communists (now a social democratic party), the Greens and new reformist groupings - a combination which may eventually combine into a broad left-wing movement when Italy's new majority voting system begins to take effect.

But if they do not get a majority tomorrow - and only Leoluca Orlando of the anti-Mafia La Rete (The Net) in Palermo looks likely to - there could be surprises in the run-offs on 5 December.

This is where the neo-fascists, the Movimento Sociale Italiano, hope to score. This tiny party, long the pariah of Italian politics, has been picking up votes in the south from the disintegrating Christian Democrats - votes which in the North tend to migrate to the Northern League. In Naples, blonde, shapely Alessandra Mussolini, granddaughter of Benito and also niece of the city's great star, Sophia Loren, is only a few percentage points behind the former Communist, Antonio Bassolino, and might beat him in a run-off.

Gianfranco Fini, the MSI's national leader, hopes to do the same in Rome where he too is running second. But he stands at only 20 per cent compared with 38 per cent for Francesco Rutelli, the personable young Green who has been working very much longer and harder at getting support.

The Northern League, which has been campaigning hard to extend its power from its heartland in Lombardy to the three northern ports of Genoa, Venice and Trieste - 'our outlets to the sea' - seems likely to be disappointed. Umberto Bossi, its leader, even promised Venice that it would be the capital of the self-governing North that he is aiming for. The League has been unable to produce any confidence- inspiring figures and certainly in Genoa and possibly elsewhere voters are less willing to forgive Mr Bossi's more outrageous outbursts.

One thing seems certain: the Christian Democrats, the only one of the discredited former ruling parties to have retained at least some voter support, appear doomed to defeat in the cities. None of their candidates, except in Trieste where they are curiously allied with the former Communists and the Greens, are likely even to go on to the second round.

This promises to be a bad blow for Mino Martinazzoli, the craggy- faced party secretary who has worked desperately to salvage a decent, moderate, Catholic party from the wreckage of the scandals. Uncharacteristically rattled by the prospects of his voters defecting in Naples, he blurted out 'the colour of one's knickers seems to count more than intelligence. In Naples, 'la Mussolini' campaigns above all with her most obvious attributes. This is boudoir democracy.' Ms Mussolini, who would not claim to be an intellectual heavyweight, has posed for photographers in various states of deshabille.

(Photograph omitted)

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