Italian voters have thwarted right-wing opposition leader Matteo Salvini’s hopes of turning an election in a key northern region into a springboard for regaining national power.
Nearly complete results from Sunday’s election for the governorship of the prosperous Emilia-Romagna region had his League party candidate winning only 43.7% of support to the 51.4% garnered by the incumbent governor Stefano Bonaccini from the centre-left Democrats.
The Democrats are in Italy’s national coalition government led by Premier Giuseppe Conte.
Italy, Emilia-Romagna regional election, 61.5% counted:— Europe Elects (@EuropeElects) January 27, 2020
Bonaccini (CSX-LEFT|S&D|G/EFA|RE): 51.4%
Borgonzoni (CDX-EPP|ECR|ID): 43.8%
Benini (M5S-NI): 3.4%#ElezioniEmiliaRomagna #ElezioniRegionali pic.twitter.com/Lzu28Iavzk
But the big loser in that regional vote was the populist 5-Star Movement, which is Mr Conte’s main coalition partner.
The 5-Stars, who are the largest party in Italy’s national Parliament, tanked at some 3.5% of the vote.
Their poor showing, the latest slump in fortunes since their triumph in the 2018 national election, could worsen infighting in the 5-Stars and weaken their clout in Mr Conte’s government.
In southern Calabria, the only other Italian region voting on Sunday, a centre-right candidate triumphed on a ticket that was backed by Mr Salvini’s anti-migrant League party, the far-right Brothers of Italy party and the conservatives of former premier Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party.
In Calabria, with most votes counted, Jole Santelli’s centre-right ticket had 55% support to 30% for the Democratic candidate. The 5-Stars were polling at only 7.3%.
Mr Salvini pledged to rebound in six more regional elections to be held in the coming months.
League candidates or those backed by them have triumphed in eight of nine regional contests, including some in which they wrested control from the centre-left.
“Eight out of nine, it could be worse,” Mr Salvini told a news conference. ”I’m a perfectionist, I’d have preferred” nine.
Still, he shrugged off the disappointment in Emilia-Romagna.
“We have broad shoulders, we’ll forge on,” Mr Salvini promised, declaring he had waged a “splendid battle” in Emilia Romagna, where the left has dominated for 70 years, earning the region the nickname “the Red Belt”.
Governor Mr Bonaccini, a Democrat, had led a region where public health care, schools and other social services are generally considered to be excellently run.
“Good government wins,” tweeted former Democratic premier Paolo Gentiloni, who is now a European Union commissioner.
Determined that Emilia-Romagna would be key to a return to national power, Mr Salvini had campaigned incessantly in there, practically eclipsing his own candidate’s visibility.
The loser, Lucia Borgonzoni, was a little-known League politician.
Last summer, Mr Salvini abruptly pulled his party out of Mr Conte’s first government, where the League had served as junior coalition partner with the 5-Stars.
He had banked the manoeuvre would trigger an early election that would catapult him into the premiership.
Instead, Mr Conte returned to power after his government collapsed by forging a deal between the 5-Stars and their arch-rival, the Democrats.
Mr Berlusconi, whose own political fortunes had been steadily slumping, particularly relished the victory in Calabria.
Mr Berlusconi has disparaged the populist 5-Stars as dangerous for democracy and he gloated over their terrible showing in both regions.
The 5-Stars made a “pitiful” showing, Mr Berlusconi said, claiming they are “condemned to irrelevance” on the national scene.