UPDATE 1-Italians vote for mayors as parties gear up for national election

Books Sunday 11/June/2017 14:30 PM
By: Times News Service

* Palermo, Genoa, Verona and Parma among main cities at stake * Parliamentary election to be held by May next year * Exit polls to be published at 2100 GMT (Updates after voting begins) By Gavin Jones ROME, June 11 (Reuters) - Italians began voting on Sunday to elect municipal mayors in a test of parties' support ahead of a parliamentary election to be held by next spring at the latest. Some 9 million voters are electing mayors in more than 1,000 towns and cities, with runoffs to be held on June 25 where no candidate gets more than 50 percent in the first round. The political climate ahead of the vote became even more febrile this week after a deal on electoral reform among the main parties broke down in parliament amid bitter recriminations. The collapse of that accord seems to have reduced the chances of a snap election in the autumn, but the broad coalition backing Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni is fragile and analysts say an early vote still cannot be ruled out. Although Sunday's vote is set to be one of the last before the general election, local factors mean it may not provide a clear reflection of the parties' national standings. Moreover, in many of the contests, the main parties have taken a back seat and chosen to camouflage themselves in broad "civic list" coalitions rather than present their own individual candidates. The largest city at stake is Palermo, where incumbent mayor Leoluca Orlando, a veteran anti-mafia campaigner backed by Italy's ruling Democratic Party (PD) and other centre-left groups, is expected to see off his rivals from the centre-right and the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement. A closer contest is expected in the northern port city of Genoa, where the centre-right hopes to win control from the incumbent centre-left. The city is home to 5-Star's founder, comedian Beppe Grillo, but the movement's prospects there have dwindled due to a local internal split. The centre-right, dominated by the Northern League and Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia party, is favourite in Verona in the northeast, while the centre-left is expected to keep control of L'Aquila, capital of the central Abruzzo region. 5-Star is running neck-and-neck with the PD nationally, according to opinion polls, but it often struggles in local elections due to its loose organisation and lack of high-profile candidates, and it is expected to score few successes on Sunday. In the northern city of Parma, its first ever mayor, elected in 2012, is running as an independent after falling out with the party leadership last year, and is favourite to win against rivals from the centre-right and centre-left as well as 5-Star. Exit polls will be published for the main cities when polls close at 11 p.m. (2100 GMT) and first projections based on the actual vote count will be released about 45 minutes later. (Reporting by Gavin Jones; Editing by Kevin Liffey/Keith Weir)