Italians voted in surprisingly large numbers Sunday on the first day of nationwide local elections that are considered a crucial test for Socialist Prime Minister Bettino Craxi’s five-party coalition government.
The main opposition came from the Communists, who hoped to gain the most votes of any single party.
The Interior Ministry announced that as of 7 p.m.--12 hours after the polls opened--42.4% of the 44 million eligible voters had cast ballots. That compared with 39% during the same time span during similar elections in 1980.
The voting in 15 regions, 86 provinces and 6,562 cities continues for half a day today, with initial results expected tonight and the first official returns on Tuesday.
Low Turnout Predicted
The Italian media had predicted record low turnout Sunday because of what was seen as widespread apathy in the election and the large number of soccer matches scheduled.
While the vote has no direct effect on Parliament, Craxi said he will resign if his five-party coalition--made up of Socialists, Christian Democrats, Social Democrats, Republicans and Liberals--suffers a major setback.
A major setback presumably means a serious drop in the 56% of the vote the coalition garnered in 1983 general elections.
His coalition has been in office since August, 1983--the third longest tenure of Italy’s 44 postwar governments.
The biggest challenge to his coalition was posed by the Communist Party, which is independent of Moscow and the largest Marxist party in the West.
The Communists were hoping to repeat their showing in last year’s European Parliament elections, when they outpolled the Christian Democrats.
Communist Party leader Alessandro Natta, 67, said that if his party comes out on top, it will demand early parliamentary elections and will claim the right to join the government. Communists have been excluded from every government since 1947.
The Interior Ministry said it deployed more than 123,000 police, paramilitary forces and auxiliary officers to patrol the voting places. No serious incidents were reported.