Italy voted in a constitutional referendum which is being closely watched for further signs of anti-establishment sentiment in Europe.
The vote, called by center-left PM Matteo Renzi, is formally on plans to streamline parliament but is expected to be used as a chance to register discontent.
Populist parties support a No vote.
The turnout on December 4 referendum has been very high by Italian standards – about 60% on average.
Nearly two-thirds of the electorate has voted in prosperous northern Italy but the turnout was much lower in the south.
Voting began at 07:00 and ended at 23:00 local time.
PM Matteo Renzi, who has said he will resign if he loses, is set to address the Italian people at midnight.
In brief, the reforms include reducing the power of the Senate. Its members would be cut from 315 to 100, with most drawn from mayors and regional representatives.
Matteo Renzi, 41, says the reforms would speed up the cumbersome law-making process in Italy, which has had 60 governments since 1948.
Opponents say the proposals would concentrate too much power in the prime minister’s hands.
Some 50 million Italians have the right to vote in the referendum – many voters are fed up with years of economic stagnation.
An opinion poll in November gave the No vote a lead of at least five percentage points. But many Italians are thought to be still undecided.
The No campaign in Italy has been spearheaded by the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, led by Beppe Grillo. It wants a referendum on whether Italy should keep the euro.
Populists, including the Five Star Movement and the anti-immigrant Northern League, would receive a boost from the prime minister’s defeat.
If Italy votes No, it would follow a similar trend seen with the UK’s vote in June to leave the EU, as well as the rise of the anti-immigrant Front National in France and populist parties elsewhere (along with Donald Trump’s unexpected win in the US presidential election).
The possibility of Matteo Renzi falling from power has reignited concerns about financial stability in the eurozone’s third largest economy.
If Matteo Renzi does lose, it is still not entirely certain that he will be out of power.
President Sergio Mattarella could ask Matteo Renzi to form a new government or appoint a technocratic prime minister to serve until elections due in 2018.
Five Star Movement’s Virginia Raggi has won 67% of the Rome vote and becomes the Italian capital’s first female mayor.
The anti-establishment Five Star Movement has won key mayoral races in Rome and Turin, cementing its role in Italian politics.
Virginia Raggi’s victory is a blow to PM Matteo Renzi’s center-left Democratic Party (PD), which won in Milan and Bologna.
The results could give anti-globalization Five Star a platform for parliamentary elections due in 2018.
Five Star Movement is aiming to establish itself as the main opposition party ahead of the vote, and its success on June 19 extended well beyond Rome. It won in 19 out of 20 towns and cities in which its candidates stood for mayor.
Chiara Appendino, another female Five Star candidate, has won the race for mayor in Turin, defeating a Democratic Party candidate who had come out on top in the first round of voting two weeks ago.
“It was not a vote of protest, but of pride and change,” Chiara Appendino told supporters, promising to rebuilt trust between the people of Turin and its elected representatives.
Her win, although more narrow than in Rome, was a significant step for Five Star because Turin is a big power base for the PD as well as the headquarters of car-maker Fiat.
Chiara Appendino defeated Piero Fassino, who had been well ahead after the first round of voting.
In Rome, 37-year-old lawyer Virginia Raggi promised a new era for the city as she celebrated her victory over PD candidate Roberto Giachetti.
Virginia Raggia said: “I will be a mayor for all Romans. I will restore legality and transparency to the city’s institutions after 20 years of poor governance.”
She will find a city mired in debts of more than €13 billion ($15 billion) – twice its annual budget.
PD’s Ignazio Marino resigned as mayor of Rome in October over an expenses scandal. Rome has been without a mayor since then. Five Star’s rise in Rome was fuelled by a big scandal involving alleged Mafia influence at Rome city hall.
In Naples, Italy’s third city, former prosecutor Luigi de Magistris, a centrist, won a second term with two thirds of the vote.
June 19 results were bad news for PM Matteo Renzi, who has staked his political future on an October referendum in which he wants Italians to back far-reaching constitutional reforms.
The plan is to end Italy’s tradition of “revolving-door” governments and inject stability after years of party infighting and legislative logjams.
Italian comedian and leader of the Five-Star Movement party Beppe Grillo has been sentenced to a one year in jail for slandering a science professor.
Prof. Francesco Battaglia said that he had been threatened and his car vandalized after Beppe Grillo, who leads Italy’s second biggest party, criticized him for backing nuclear energy.
Beppe Grillo, who is unlikely to go to jail, also faces damages of €50,000 ($56,000).
He suggested people were afraid his party was getting close to government.
Beppe Grillo also likened himself to two other historical figures who had spent time in jail, Italian anti-Fascist campaigner Sandro Pertini and South Africa’s first black president, Nelson Mandela.
“If Pertini and Mandela ended up in prison, I can go there too for a cause I think is just and that has been supported by the overwhelming majority of Italians,” he wrote on his blog.
Francesco Battaglia said the maverick leader should carry out community service, just as ex-PM Silvio Berlusconi had done, and should take more care of what he said because of the large number of Italians who listened to him.
Beppe Grillo publicly insulted the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia professor at a rally in 2011, after a TV appearance in which Prof. Francesco Battaglia had supported nuclear energy.
“I’ll kick your backside and throw you off TV,” Beppe Grillo said, urging his supporters to refuse to pay their TV license fees.
Beppe Grillo, who was the driving force behind the Eurosceptic, anti-austerity protest party, is gradually handing over the reins of Five Star to a group of younger leaders.
The Five Star Movement is currently second in opinion polls behind PM Matteo Renzi’s center-left Democratic Party.