File photo shows scrutineers counting the ballots at the end of the vote on December 4, 2016 in a polling station near Italy’s Turin. (AFP photo)
Italians have gone to polling stations for a runoff of mayoral elections as parties from left to right struggle to gain more support amid the country’s persisting economic problems.
Voting began early Sunday in 111 mainly small cities and towns as reports suggested a relatively low turnout of 14.9 percent by midday (10.00 GMT), down from 19 percent in June 11 first round.
The runoff is believed to produce a fierce competition between center-left and center-right coalitions as the two try to outpace nationalist, anti-migrant parties ahead of a national election due in less than a year.
The first round was a mess for the populist 5-Star Movement, which only reached the run-off in one of the main 25 towns and cities. The anti-establishment party, still the most popular at a national level according to opinion polls, even failed to capture Genoa, where its founder lives. The runoff is closely watched in Genoa as a city badly hit by years of economic crisis in Italy.
Many say the vote could be a reflection of what would politically happen in Italy in the next general election, which is slated for the spring of 2018, although snap votes are not ruled out due to the fragility of a coalition backing the government of Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni.
Like Spain and Greece, Italy has seen a rise in popularity for anti-European parties. That is mainly due to European Union’s continued austerity measures and the failure of the bloc to properly deal with the increasing flow of refugees to Italy from Africa. 

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