High Turnout Reported On First Day Of Key Two-Day Local Elections
ROME (AP) _ Italians voted in surprisingly large numbers Sunday on the first day of nationwide local elections considered a crucial test for Socialist Premier Bettino Craxi’s five-party coalition government.
The main opposition was coming from the Communists, who hoped to gain the most votes of any single party.
The Interior Ministry said in a communique that as of 7 p.m., 12 hours after the polls opened, 42.4 percent of the 44.4 million eligible voters had cast ballots. That compared with 39 percent during the same time span in 1980 elections for regional, provincial and municipal governments.
The voting continues for half day on Monday, with initial results expected that night and the first official count on Tuesday.
The Italian media had predicted record absenteeism Sunday because of widespread disinterest and a day packed with soccer games.
Italian law stipulates that voting is mandatory, but there is no direct penalty for failing to do so. In the 1984 European Parliament elections, a record 19.4 percent of the eligible voters either did not vote or cast spoiled protest ballots.
The Interior Ministry said it deployed more than 123,000 police, paramilitary forces and auxiliary officers to patrol the 82,711 voting places. No serious incidents were reported.
Police reported scattered vandalism against polling places and the homes of candidates, including a small bomb that was detonated at the front door of Christian Democrat Frano Frau’s house in Nuoro, Sardinia.The explosion caused slight damage but no injuries.
While the vote has no direct effect on Parliament, it was seen as a key test for Craxi’s coalition of his own Socialists, Christian Democrats, Social Democrats, Republicans and Liberals.
Craxi has said his government could not stand a defeat - presumably meaning a serious drop in the 56 percent of the vote the five parties 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 was posed by the Communist Party, the largest Marxist party in the West and normally Italy’s No. 2 party behind the dominant Christian Democrats.
The Communists were hoping to repeat their showing in last year’s European Parliament elections, when they outpolled the Christian Democrats
They took 33.3 percent of the vote to 30 percent for the Christian Democrats. It was the first time in postwar history tht the Christian Democrats had not been the top vote getter.
During Sunday’s voting in Florence, there was a brief moment of panic when a policeman standing guard outside a school containing a voting booth fired his pistol at a fugitive thief he recognized in a passing car, police said.
The fugitive escaped, but anti-terrorist police converged on the school until it was clarified that the shooting was not a politically motivated attack.
Police also said a candidate for the city council of northern Castellamonte was found dead early Sunday in an apparent suicide.
They said Giovanni Battista Frasca, 58, was shot in the head and had left behind a suicide note. He was running on the neo-Fascist Italian Social Movement ticket in the city near Turin.
In another development, a candidate of the leftist Radical Party was arrested in Rome when he showed up to vote, witnesses said. Gaetano Dentamaro, who claims to be a conscientious objector, had been sought for four months for failing to report for his military service.