Counting begins in key polls testing Italian premier Renzi

The centre-left party of Italian premier Matteo Renzi faced battles in regional elections, exit polls showed today, after balloting and this is seen as measure of the fading fortunes of ex-leader Silvio Berlusconi. 

Yesterday's polls were the 1st in Italy, and that is slowly emerging from recession, since European elections recently by which Renzi's Democratic Party (PD) won with just over 40 percent of the vote. 

Observers are likewise looking closely on the battle around the right between the anti-immigration Northern League, led by rising star Matteo Salvini, and Berlusconi's Forza Italia (Go Italy). 

Twenty million voters meet the requirements to elect governors in seven of the country's 20 regions, and also the mayors of more than 700 municipalities. 

From the close of polling at 11:00 pm (2100 GMT), turnout stood at 64 per-cent from the municipal polls, and between 49 and 56 % inside the regional balloting. 

Counting is predicted to stay during the night with initial results caused by be announced today. 

Presently, five of the seven regions holding elections are governed with the left, an example may be led with the Northern League and another by Forza Italia. 

In line with exit polls, the PD candidate was set to emerge third from the northern region of Liguria, where Renzi's ally faced rivals in a left-wing dissident plus the right-wing Giovanni Toti, held by the two Northern League and Forza Italia. 

In Campania to the south, in comparison, the PD's candidate Vincenzo De Luca looked to be slightly prior to the Forza Italia incumbent. 

A victory by De Luca wouldn't be without controversy -- they have been named in the report on 17 "unpresentable" candidates by an anti-mafia commission. 

De Luca has a conviction for abuse of power and faces trial on other charges, including fraud, and can be banned from taking office. 

Although an embarrassment for Renzi, the 40-year-old premier's popularity nevertheless generally seems to remain high after nearly 12 months-and-a-half with the helm. 

The outcomes will also provide an indicator of Berlusconi's political future. 

The 78-year-old media magnate is looking towards making a comeback after his acquittal on charges of paying for underage sex along with a stint of public service for tax fraud. 

Thirty elected members of Forza Italia have previously announced their departure to partake of the person once considered Berlusconi's heir apparent, Raffaele Fitto, who may have broken away from the old leader.