Low turnout in Italian polls haunts Berlusconi

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The Independent Online

Corruption scandals and bureaucratic bungling by Silvio Berlusconi's party appeared to put a damper on turnout, which could favour the opposition, as Italians voted in regional elections yesterday.

More than 41 million people are eligible to vote for the governors of 13 of Italy's 20 regions, as well as heads of four provinces and nearly 500 town halls.

Mr Berlusconi, the Prime Minister, denied any threat from junior coalition partner the Northern League, which could gain ground in the north, but urged supporters to avoid the low turnout of this month's French regional vote which was damaging for President Nicolas Sarkozy.

The first official data on turnout, measured at midday yesterday, showed a drop of nearly 3 percentage points versus the same stage in voting during the last regional vote five years ago, when 71.5 per cent of eligible voters turned out in total.

The 73-year-old premier has said his nearly two-year-old government would not see major changes whatever the outcome of the vote. His third term in office is due to end in 2013. Casting his vote in Milan, Mr Berlusconi spoke of the tense atmosphere in Italian politics in recent months. Pollsters say rising unemployment is the top concern for 79 per cent of Italians.