From the capital to Milan, Naples and Bologna, voters will head to the polls this Sunday and Monday for local elections, which are being closely watched as a test ahead of the general election in 2023.
But in Rome – one of the world’s dirtiest cities, according to a ranking last month by the British magazine Time Out – residents are more concerned with the perennial transport, flooding, waste and pothole woes in this city of 2.8 million inhabitants.
The capital’s environmental woes were highlighted recently when videos of large families of wild boar walking down busy city streets went viral on social media.
Rome’s current mayor, Virginia Raggi from the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S),said that her “detractors continue to use photos and videos of wild boar around Rome, giving me full responsibility”
Raggi insists she is not to blame for the longstanding problems and recently filed a lawsuit against the Lazio regional government, insisting they – not Rome – are responsible for getting the boars under control.
But political watchers say Raggi’s failure to tackle the rubbish crisis, along with her widely-mocked plans to use sheep as lawnmowers and bees to combat pollution, may cost her dearly.
The candidate of the right-wing alliance, Nicola Michetti, is likely to pocket the most votes due to a split on the left, according to the last polls published before a pre-election blackout.
But he is not predicted to get over the 50 percent of votes needed to avoid a run-off in two weeks — and polls say he may then lose in round two to the Democratic Party’s Roberto Gualtieri, a former economy minister.
Lawyer Michetti, 55, says pick him to clean up the city, or “today we have seagulls and boars, tomorrow it could be cholera”.
Gualtieri and rival centre-left candidate Carlo Calenda, meanwhile, have called for round tables with experts to tackle the problem of the wild boars.
In the picturesque neighbourhood of Trastevere in Rome, where bins often overflow onto the cobbles, 60-year old resident Tiziana De Silvestro, out walking her dog, said the root of the problem was rubbish left overnight outside bars and restaurants.
“Now the city is full of animals, crows, seagulls, not to mention mice and cockroaches,” she said.
Volunteers sick of the filth have begun in recent years to organise periodic cleaning sessions – but say the city should do its part.
“There are many young people, many voluntary associations that are reacting, that are trying to say: ‘enough is enough’,” Cristiano Tancredi from “Retake Roma” told AFPTV.
“I think the next mayor will have to take this into consideration: there is a great demand from citizens who want a better city, a different city,” he said.
Some 12 million voters are eligible to cast ballots in the elections, which are being held not only in the country’s largest cities but in more than 1,000 smaller centres, including Morterone in Lombardy, which has just 33 inhabitants.
The historically left-wing bastion of Bologna is considered a safe seat, while the centre-left is confident of taking Milan and Naples too. The race is closer in Turin, which the centre-right is hungrily eyeing.