ROME – Italy’s populist 5-Star Movement was seeking to expand power in mayoral elections being held Sunday in some 1,000 towns and small cities across the country.
The anti-euro party hopes to build momentum with the vote, which comes before a national election that must be called in less than a year.
Sunday’s balloting will also test whether the Democratic Party, led by former Premier Matteo Renzi, can rebound locally after suffering stinging losses to the 5-Stars in Rome and Turin mayoral races a year ago.
Renzi resigned the premiership in December after he badly miscalculated that Italians would back his government’s constitutional reforms in a referendum.
Defections have plagued the Democrats, the largest party in Parliament and senior partner in Premier Paolo Gentiloni’s center-left coalition. Those splitting from Renzi’s fold including top leaders who resent what critics say is an arrogant and self-centered management style.
The opposition 5-Stars are the second-largest force in the legislature and aim to gain their first premiership in an election due by 2018.
Genoa and Palermo were the largest cities up for grabs Sunday.
Among residents voting in Genoa was comic Beppe Grillo, a founder of the 5-Star Movement and its galvanizing force. The 5-Stars are fielding candidates in 225 of some 1,000 races.
The populist movement has been keen on making inroads in the south.
Leoluca Orlando, a center-left figure who made his name as an anti-Mafia maverick in the 1980s, is running for a fifth mandate as mayor of Palermo, Sicily, a stiff challenge for the 5-Stars.
At least one town needing a mayor won’t get one.
No one offered to be a candidate in San Luca, a remote town in the Calabrian mountains and dubbed the “mamma of the ‘ndrangheta” crime syndicate for its notoriety as a stronghold of mobsters, Sky TG24 TV reported. Officials appointed by the Interior Ministry will continue to run the town of 3,900 residents until elections can eventually be held.