Sunday vote seen as test for Italian PM

Italians are set to vote Sunday in regional elections seen as an important test for Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and for the fading Forza Italia party of Silvio Berlusconi.

Sunday vote seen as test for Italian PM
PM Matteo Renzi (left) talks to the CEO of Audi in Rome. Photo: AFP

Twenty million voters are to elect governors in seven of the country's 20 regions, as well as the mayors of more than 1,000 municipalities.

This polling battle is the first in Italy, which is slowly emerging from recession, since European elections a year ago in which Renzi's centre-left Democratic party (PD) won with just over 40 percent of the vote.

Observers will also be looking closely at the battle on the right between the anti-immigration Northern League, led by rising star Matteo Salvini, and Forza Italia (Go Italy), the party of former prime minister Berlusconi.

A key test for the premier will come in the northern region of Liguria, where the PD's candidate faces rivals in both a left-wing dissident and the right-wing Giovanni Toti, supported by both the Northern League and Forza Italia.

At present, five of the seven regions holding elections are governed by the left, one is led by the League and another by Forza Italia.

In Campania in the south, the PD's candidate Vincenzo De Luca, fighting the Forza Italia incumbent, has been named in a list of 17 “unpresentable” candidates by an anti-mafia commission.

De Luca has a conviction for abuse of power and faces trial on other charges, including fraud, and could be banned from taking office.

Although an embarrassment for Renzi, the 40-year-old premier's popularity appears to remain high after nearly a year and a half at the helm.

PM 'only serious offer'

“The alternatives to Renzi are not very attractive, he remains the only serious political offer,” said Giovanni Orsina, political scientist at the Luiss University in Rome.

The betting odds suggest a score of 6-1 to the Italian left, with wide expectations that Veneto in the northeast will remain with the League, or 5-2 or even 4-3.

“4-3 for us football fans evokes fond memories,” said Renzi recently, referring to the result of the semi-final of the 1970 World Cup won by Italy against West Germany.

Such a result would however be a disappointment for Renzi, and his supporters have been playing down the importance of the polls.

“The next regional elections are neither a test nor a thermometer for the government. The European elections last year were not, the regionals today are not,” said Luca Lotti, a member of Renzi's cabinet.

Italy's regional elections have ended badly for premiers in the past — Massimo D'Alema, leader of a leftist government, resigned after defeat in regional polls in 2000.

This weekend's election is also crucial for three-time premier Berlusconi, 78, the billionaire media magnate keen on a political comeback after his acquittal of paying for underage sex and a stint of community service for tax fraud.

“If Berlusconi records really bad results, this might be his political end,” Orsina told AFP.

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Protesters gather in Milan as Italy limits same-sex parents’ rights

Hundreds of people took to the streets of Milan on Saturday in protest against a new government directive stopping local authorities from registering the births of same-sex couples' children.

Protesters gather in Milan as Italy limits same-sex parents' rights

“You explain to my son that I’m not his mother,” read one sign held up amid a sea of rainbow flags that filled the northern city’s central Scala Square.

Italy legalised same-sex civil unions in 2016, but opposition from the Catholic Church meant it stopped short of granting gay couples the right to adopt.

Decisions have instead been made on a case-by-case basis by the courts as parents take legal action, although some local authorities decided to act unilaterally.

Milan’s city hall had been recognising children of same-sex couples conceived overseas through surrogacy, which is illegal in Italy, or medically assisted reproduction, which is only available for heterosexual couples.

But its centre-left mayor Beppe Sala revealed earlier this week that this had stopped after the interior ministry sent a letter insisting that the courts must decide.

READ ALSO: Milan stops recognising children born to same-sex couples

“It is an obvious step backwards from a political and social point of view, and I put myself in the shoes of those parents who thought they could count on this possibility in Milan,” he said in a podcast, vowing to fight the change.

Milan's mayor Giuseppe Sala

Milan’s mayor Giuseppe Sala has assured residents that he will fight to have the new government directive overturned. Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP

Fabrizio Marrazzo of the Gay Party said about 20 children are waiting to be registered in Milan, condemning the change as “unjust and discriminatory”.

A mother or father who is not legally recognised as their child’s parent can face huge bureaucratic problems, with the risk of losing the child if the registered parent dies or the couple’s relationship breaks down.

Elly Schlein, newly elected leader of the centre-left Democratic Party, was among opposition politicians who attended the protest on Saturday, where many campaigners railed against the new government.

Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, whose Brothers of Italy party came top in the September elections, puts a strong emphasis on traditional family values.

“Yes to natural families, no to the LGBT lobby!” she said in a speech last year before her election at the head of a right-wing coalition that includes Matteo Salvini’s anti-immigration League.

Earlier this week, a Senate committee voted against an EU plan to oblige member states to recognise the rights of same-sex parents granted elsewhere in the bloc.