LONDON: One in three Italians chose not to vote in crucial regional polls, delivering a protest slap on the wrist for the Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, rather than the widely anticipated black eye.More than 40 million people were entitled to cast a vote in the two-day election, widely read as the first test of Mr Berlusconi’s electoral popularity following of a year of personal scandal and corruption allegations.Italy usually has one of the highest voter turnouts among Western democracies. But according to open forums on Italy’s major newspaper websites – established to combat the media blackout imposed on the nation’s free-to-air TV channels – the low turnout was a considered decision by voters to express their disillusionment with the political system. Just under 65 per cent of the nation voted, a hefty seven percentage points less than in regional elections five years ago.”It is the last form of dissent available to us,” wrote one of more than 600 readers to La Repubblica newspaper.”If my vote managed to change anything, it would be illegal,” wrote another with barely disguised cynicism about Italy’s entrenched bureaucratic corruption.The only winner was the Northern League, the xenophobic party of the far right, which is allied to Mr Berlusconi but could transform itself into a rival. The Northern League made convincing gains in the Veneto region where it won and in Lombardy and Piedmont where it made significant inroads.When the polls closed at 3pm on Monday, Berlusconi’s governing centre-right party, People of Freedom, appeared to have taken four of the 13 regions that went to the polls and the centre-left Democrats took seven with two regions – Piedmont, in the north, and Lazio, which encompasses Rome – too close to call.Last night Italian analysts suggested the Northern League’s gains could create serious problems with Mr Berlusconi’s fragile coalition, particularly as it had also raised its share of the vote in several important centre-left strongholds in central Italy.Speaking to London’s Financial Times, Andrea Romano, head of the Italia Futura think-tank, said the turnout of 64.2 per cent highlighted that Italians are delivering a protest to major parties.