People in two rich, semi-autonomous regions in northern Italy have started going to the polls in non-binding referendums on more autonomy.
An absolute majority of “yes” votes in the twin referendums in Lombardy and Veneto on Sunday would give the two regions’ leaders a boost in negotiations with the central government when bargaining to seek a greater share of the regions’ riches, which are currently being divided throughout the country.
Even though the referendums — which are approved by Italy’s constitutional court — do not seek complete separation from Rome, they could cause headaches for the central government by strengthening the hand of local officials in favor of more autonomy.
Lombardy has 7.5 million voters and Veneto has 3.5 million. Together, the two regions account for one-quarter of Italy’s electorate and one-third of the GDP.
Both regions are run by the anti-refugee, anti-EU Northern League party.
Also supporting the referendum is former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia and the populist 5-Star Movement.
The Democratic Party has urged its supporters to abstain from voting.
The Sunday referendums will measure the mood ahead of a national election next year.
Critics of the referendums argue that the non-binding votes carry no legal weight, are not needed to trigger autonomy negotiations, and are a costly waste of resources.
A picture taken on October 20, 2017 in Salzano, Veneto, shows posters campaigning for ‘yes’ in a referendum. (Photo by AFP)
The referendums in the regions come shortly after a referendum on independence in Spain’s Catalonia faced strong opposition and a crackdown by authorities in Madrid.
The Italian constitution already grants varying levels of autonomy to five regions in recognition of their special status.