Italy's political parties face local elections test

ROME (AFP) - Italy's main political parties braced for local election results due out once polls close after a second day of voting on Monday, with a particularly tight battle between right and left for mayor of Rome.

Turnout was far lower than five years ago, with 44.67 per cent casting ballots in the first day of voting on Sunday compared to 60 per cent at the previous polls, according to data from the interior ministry.

La Repubblica daily said the low turnout indicated Italy was witnessing "a divorce with politics".

Rome's current rightwing mayor Gianni Alemanno, a former neo-fascist, is running two points behind leftist challenger Ignazio Marino.

Mr Marino has criticised Mr Alemanno over the city's traffic-clogged streets and a waste disposal emergency, as well as his failure to address the crisis triggered by Italy's longest recession.

Opinion polls indicate that neither candidate will win a majority in the first round, meaning there will have to be a run-off on June 9 and 10.

A total of 564 local authorities are holding elections, many of them facing similar holes in public finances and the challenges created by tough austerity cuts.

Polls close at 1300 GMT and preliminary results will begin trickling in shortly after that.

Analysts will be paying close attention to the results as a bellwether of support for political parties three months after a general election that left no clear winner and one month after a new grand coalition government was unveiled.

The coexistence of rightists and leftists in Prime Minister Enrico Letta's cabinet is uneasy and some analysts warn it may only last a few months.

Meanwhile the anti-establishment opposition Five Star Movement led by former comedian Beppe Grillo, which captured a quarter of the vote in the February elections, has appeared to lose ground.