Italians are voting in seven regional elections expected to favour the far right and a constitutional referendum to cut down the number of MPs in the country’s two chambers.
Voting began at 7am (05:00 GMT) and will run until 11pm local time on Sunday. It will continue on Monday from 7am to 3pm. Results are expected to be announced later on Monday.
The main national governing parties – the Five Star Movement and the centre-left Democratic Party (PD) – are bracing for a poor showing in the first electoral test since the outbreak of the new coronavirus.
The opposition, led by Matteo Salvini of the far-right League, is expected to win in at least three regions, including Veneto, the region around Venice, and Liguria in the north, according to projections.
The PD is confident of victory only in Campania, the region around Naples, and is desperate to avoid defeat in Tuscany, a former left-wing stronghold where the League’s candidate could achieve a historic win.
Regional leaderships are also being decided in Le Marche, Puglia and Valle d’Aosta.
Separately, some 51.6 million people are eligible to vote in a referendum on reducing the number of MPs in the country’s parliament. If the changes are approved in the referendum, the Chamber of Deputies, the lower house, will go from 630 MPs to 400, and the Senate from 315 to 200.
No minimum turnout is needed for the vote to be valid, amid expectations that the reform will be approved.
The M5S, which has the most members of any party in the lower house after a 2018 election, says such a move would save 500 million euros ($580 million) during the five-year legislative period. It considers reducing the size of the parliament part of its quest to end perks and privileges for politicians.
Most parties back the constitutional reform, which has already been passed by the Chamber but without the two-thirds majority that would have avoided a referendum.
Meanwhile, critics of the constitutional reform say it produces minimal cost savings and risks undermining the democratic system by weakening the authority of the parliament.
Voters at polling stations are required to wear masks and maintain physical distancing as a precaution against the coronavirus.
Italy’s outbreak has claimed more than 35,600 lives – the second-worst confirmed death toll in Europe after Britain – and stricken 296,500 people since February.
For the first time, voters over 65 have preferential access and are guided to the front of any line by volunteers from Italy’s civil protection agency.
Once inside, voters may lower their masks just long enough to confirm their identity against voting cards and ID documents.
Furthermore, voters leaving the voting booths will place the ballots inside the boxes themselves, instead of turning them over to poll workers.