There is a risk of Italy's mafias "conditioning" the general election in March, Italy's Interior Minister Marco Minniti warned.
Italians go to the polls on March 4 and Minniti said there was "too much silence" on the "concrete" risk of the mafias posing a threat to democracy and "the freedom to vote," Italian news agency ANSA reported.
"We're in the swing of the electoral competition and … There is a concrete risk of the mafias conditioning electors' free vote," Minniti said on Wednesday as he presented an annual report to the Anti-Mafia commission in Rome.
"The mafias are able to condition institutions and politics," Minniti, a minister that belongs to the ruling Democratic Party (PD) warned.
"On these issues there cannot be a silence in the electoral campaign, I see too much silence on these issues, I say this as minister of the interior," he said, the Corriere della Sera newspaper reported.
Italy has a number of organized crime groups, the largest being the Calabria-based 'Ndrangheta, the Sicily-based Cosa Nostra and the Campania-based Camorra. All three organized crime groups have featured in vote-buying cases over the years, ANSA noted.
Mafia vote-buying has been widely reported with various politicians investigated for the practice at a local and regional level. In 2014, the Italian Senate passed a reform to toughen up legislation against Mafia vote-buying although it's still taking place. Statistics portal Statista notes that the number of individuals arrested for mafia vote-buying in Italy grew from 6 to 17 total cases, between the second semester of 2015 and the first semester of 2016.
The battle between the Italian state and organized crime groups has been muddled and murderous over the decades of the 20th century. Many Italian politicians whether local, regional and national have often been exposed as having links to organized crime groups.
A number of high-profile judges, police and anti-mafia activists have been murdered for speaking out against criminal groups in the country and public opinion has broadly turned against the groups, yet Mafia activity is still a part of daily life in Italy and newspapers frequently feature reports of Mafia activity, arrests and murders.
The accusations of interference in the Italian election comes at a time when global attention is focused on the potential undermining of political processes in Western democracies.
Allegations that the Russian state meddled in the U.S. election in 2016, and possible collusion between the Donald Trump campaign and Russia, are still being investigated. Last week, 13 Russian individuals and several business entities were charged with interference in the election. The Kremlin denied involvement and responded to the charges saying there was "no significant evidence" of state involvement, but gave no further information.