Local elections deal a heavy blow for Italy’s Five Star Movement

UPDATED: Italy's anti-establishment Five Star Movement suffered a setback on Sunday after exit polls and early results from local elections showed they failed to advance to the second round of voting in any of the country's main cities.

Local elections deal a heavy blow for Italy's Five Star Movement
Five Star Movement leader Beppe Grillo pictured during a speech. Photo: Marco Bertorello/AFP

Votes were cast in 1,005 of the country's towns and smaller cities, including four regional capitals: L'Aquila, Catanzaro, Palermo, and Genoa. 

The latter was a particularly closely-watched race, as it is the hometown of Five Star leader Beppe Grillo, who had been campaigning there in recent days – hoping to repeat the Movement's success in the 2016 local elections, where it took control of both Rome and Turin.

However, the party's candidate in Genoa only reached 18 percent of the vote, according to exit polls, with centre-right candidate Marco Bucci in the lead.

Other important races were held in Verona, Lecce, and Parma, where the city's ex-Five Star mayor will go head-to-head with the centre-left candidate in the second round, while the Movement's candidate received just over three percent of the vote.

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Photo: Giuseppe Cacace/AFP

Most of the elections will go forward to a second round: in contests where no leader reaches an outright 50 percent majority, run-off elections will be held between the two most popular candidates on June 25th.

In Palermo, however, where the necessary majority is only 40 percent, centre-left candidate and anti-mafia magistrate Leoluca Orlando kept his job as mayor after receiving 46 percent of the vote – the only candidate to win outright in a major city.

An important test

Sunday's vote was the last time Italians will go to the polls before general elections expected early next year, and were seen as a key test for the main parties. 

General elections must be held by spring 2018, though the four major parties have all expressed a desire for them to be brought forward to the autumn.

However, after talks on a deal on a new electoral law collapsed on Thursday, early elections are now seen as much less likely.

The initial results of Sunday's vote will be a boost for the ruling Democratic Party and for the centre-right Forza Italia, led by Silvio Berlusconi.

But the failure to advance to the second round in any of Italy's major cities will be a disappointment for Grillo's party, which has been shown as neck-and-neck with the Democratic Party in nationwide opinion polls.

Figures from the Democratic Party were quick to point this out, with the party's head of local authorities, Matteo Ricci, saying: “If the data are confirmed, this will be a resounding defeat for the Five Star Movement.”

“In parliament and at the municipal level, Five Star has demonstrated that they are stronger when it comes to winning votes than governing,” said the PD's Ettore Rosato.

“They do not make choices, they don't make decisions, or assume their responsibilities.”

After scooping around 25 percent of the vote in 2013's general election, the Movement went on to win major victories in local elections, with its candidates elected as mayors in Turin and Rome last year.

But it has been hit by problems from in-fighting to scandals, and Rome's administration has been accused of failing to tackle key local issues such as the city's rubbish crisis, a cornerstone of mayor Virginia Raggi's campaign.

Grillo denied that the results were a disappointment, saying the Movement's critics were “deluding themselves”. 

“The Five Star Movement was the most present political force in this electoral round,” the former comedian wrote in a blog post titled Sucesses, Failures and Aims.

He said that the results were “a sign of slow but inexorable growth” of the Movement and “a slow death” of the PD.

Grillo hit out at the country's media, which labelled the results a “flop” for the Five Stars. “Delude yourselves so you can sleep more soundly; we continue to move forward on our path,” he said.

READ ALSO: Five Star Movement leader Grillo wants to give 16-year-olds the vote

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Italy’s hard right set for election victory after left-wing alliance collapses

An Italian centre-left election pact broke down on Sunday just days after it was formed, leaving the path to power clear for the hard-right coalition.

Italy’s hard right set for election victory after left-wing alliance collapses

The alliance between Italian centre-left parties was left in disarray on Sunday night, potentially meaning a landslide victory for the hard-right coalition at early general elections in September.

The leader of the centrist Azione party withdrew support for the left-wing coalition led by the Democratic Party (PD) just five days after the two joined forces, saying it could not work with left-wingers brought in to boost the alliance.

Carlo Calenda, leader of Azione, withdrew his support on Sunday after PD made another pact with smaller left-wing parties including the radical Sinistra Italiana, and new green party Europa Verde.

“You cannot explain (to voters) that to defend the constitution you make a pact with people you know you will never govern with,” Calenda told newspaper Corriere della Sera.

The news was greeted with jubilation by hard-right League leader Matteo Salvini, who tweeted: “On the left chaos and everyone against everyone!”

Giorgia Meloni, leader of the neofascist Brothers of Italy party (FdI) mocked a “new twist in the soap opera of the centre-left.”

READ ALSO: Italy to choose ‘Europe or nationalism’ at election, says PD leader

Analyists predict the centre-left split could hand the right-wing bloc a landslide victory at the election on September 25th, with Meloni tipped to become Italy’s first female prime minister.

Italy’s political system favours coalitions, and while Meloni has a strong alliance with Salvini’s League and Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, Letta is struggling to bring together the disparate  progressive parties.

The PD is neck and neck with Brothers of Italy in the latest opinion polls, but even in partnership with Azione, the group most recently polled at 33.6 percent, compared with 46.4 percent for the right.

Political commentators said the only hope PD has now of posing a credible threat to the right-wing alliance would be by partnering with the Five Star Movement.

READ ALSO: Why has Italy’s government collapsed in the middle of summer?

However, Letta has repeatedly said this is out of the question, as he blames M5S for triggering the political crisis that brought down Mario Draghi’s broad coalition government.

“Either PD eats its hat and seeks alliance with M5S to defeat the right-wing coalition, or it’s hard to see how the right can possibly lose the forthcoming election,” Dr Daniele Albertazzi, a politics professor at the University of Surrey in England, tweeted on Sunday.

Early elections were called after Draghi resigned in late July. His government currently remains in place in a caretaker role.