MILAN – Former Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi threw his political weight behind a non-binding referendum on autonomy in his native region of Lombardy — though he said Wednesday he wasn't sure whether he can vote himself.
Berlusconi joined Roberto Maroni, president of the prosperous Lombardy region, to show his support for its autonomy. Both Lombardy and neighboring Veneto are voting Sunday for greater autonomy.
Asked if he planned to vote, Berlusconi replied, "I asked my lawyers the same questions and I don't know."
Maroni and his counterpart in Veneto hope that resounding "Yes" votes will give them political leverage in talks with Rome to gain more control over tax revenues and additional powers in areas including immigration and security.
Maroni said he would be satisfied with a voter turnout similar to that in previous referendums, citing a 34 percent Lombardy turnout on a constitutional referendum in 2001. In Veneto, the referendum will not be valid unless more than 50 percent of voters participate.
"We hope this referendum will have a great success," Berlusconi said, adding that he planned to make greater regional autonomy part of the election platform for the center-right in upcoming election campaigns.
Berlusconi has become more politically active in the run-up to next year's elections, after a conviction of tax fraud kept him from publicly campaigning during the last vote in 2013. Berlusconi performed about 10 months of public service as part of the sentence, and was banned for two years for seeking public office, now expired.
He remains the influential leader of his Forza Italia party, and he is jockeying for leadership of the center-right with Northern League leader Matteo Salvini. He said the two would meet next week to discuss whether Salvini continues to contend that Italy should exit from the euro.
The ballot measures are supported by the Northern League and the populist 5-Star Movement, while the Democratic Party has urged its voters to abstain.