MILAN (Reuters) - Italy's richest and most populous region will go to the polls soon after a spreading graft scandal claimed its parliament, its governor said, adding a new element of political instability months ahead of a national election.
Lombardy governor Roberto Formigoni dissolved the regional legislature on Tuesday following the arrest of a member of his center-right administration for allegedly buying votes from the Calabrian mafia.
After losing the support of his main ally, the separatist Northern League party, at the weekend, he said he would call new elections very soon, possibly within 45 days.
The move follows a long list of scandals in regional governments that Justice Minister Paola Severino compared on Sunday to the "Bribesville" corruption cases that destroyed Italy's old party system in the 1990s.
Formigoni, a key figure in former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi center-right People of Freedom party who has led the region for 17 years, has himself resisted calls to quit over accusations that he pocketing 8.5 million euros ($11 million) in presents, trips and dinners.
He has repeatedly denied wrongdoing but has been placed under formal investigation by magistrates in Milan.
Corruption scandals have also led to the forced departure of the governors of Lazio and Sicily in the last few months and to the arrest of several regional politicians.
They have fuelled a widespread mood of disillusionment with Italy's current political elite among voters - a mood that an election in Lombardy towards year-end seems unlikely to lift.
The vote there could also further weaken the power base of the center-right, which is badly divided and trailing in opinion polls, ahead of national parliamentary elections expected in April.
A government 'white book' on corruption to be unveiled next week is expected to say that Italy loses 60 billion euros a year due to corruption, according to daily La Repubblica.
The Northern League was also hit by a funding scandal earlier this year.
(Reporting by Ilaria Polleschi; Writing by Lisa Jucca; Editing by John Stonestreet)