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Italian right celebrates rise in historically left-wing Umbria

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Italian right celebrates rise in historically left-wing Umbria
League leader Matteo Salvini speaks in Umbria on October 19th. Photo: Tiziana Fabi/AFP
10:21 CET+01:00
Italy's right-wing opposition alliance was on Monday celebrating a local election victory in Umbria, a region known as a left-wing “stronghold” for the past 70 years.

Support for the Five Star Movement (M5S) nosedived in the local poll, as did the vote for the centre-left Democratic Party (PD), which has been rocked by a health scandal in the region.

READ ALSO: Italian right hopes to conquer left stronghold in key vote

Right-wing League party leader Matteo Salvini had vowed to wrest Umbria, a hilly region neighbouring Tuscany, from the left in the first of several key region elections he hopes will bring his party back to power.

Salvini said the results of Sunday's vote were "extraordinary", expressing his "joy and emotion" after the right's candidate Donatella Tesei won with more than 57 percent, compared to 37 percent for the coalition government's candidate.

It was Salvini's anti-immigrant League party that had swept the board, bringing home 37 percent of the vote in a region which has voted left for 70 years.

The former interior minister's campaign trail allies - the smaller, far-right Brothers of Italy, and former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi's centre-right Forza Italia - respectively won 10 percent and 5.8 percent.

The government coalition of M5S and the PD are former enemies who joined forces for the regional vote in a bid to beat Salvini, but came up short.

File photo: Tiziana Fabi/AFP

The PD won 22 percent, but the M5S took home just 7.4 percent - a poor result which shook the party to its core.

Salvini said the "days are numbered" for Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and the PD and M5S leaders, who are accused by the right of having “betrayed” Italians by forming an alliance to prevent Salvini forcing snap elections.

ANALYSIS: How Matteo Salvini lost his gamble to become Italy's PM – for now

"The centre-right has the right and duty to govern the country," Berlusconi said after the Umbria win, while Brothers of Italy head Giorgia Meloni said "if I was Conte, I'd hand in my resignation faster than light".

Political analysts had said a poor result for the M5S could spark an internal rebellion within the Movement by those who were against the tie-up with the hated PD on a national level, or those who want their leader Luigi Di Maio gone.

"The implosion or endurance of the M5S worries the PD a lot," political commentator Ilario Lombardo said in the Stampa daily, warning the fallout from the vote for the Movement would be "deeply wounding".

The centre-right managed to tap into disillusionment over an economic crisis worsened by a series of earthquakes that struck central Italy in 2016, killing hundreds of people and devastating towns and villages.

The region was already suffering from the economic crisis, which hit historic companies like chocolate maker Perugina hard, while Umbria's biggest factory, the Terni steelworks, has struggled for years and periodically risks closure.

"We always considered the civil pact for Umbria to be a test, but the experiment did not work," M5S said on Facebook.

 

It said a tie-up with the PD at other regional votes was now in question but brushed off suggestions the coalition government could be brought down by the Umbria loss.

The Democratic Party acknowledged it had been hampered at the ballot box by a health sector scandal: Umbria governor and PD member Catiuscia Marini quit in April following a probe into competitive exams for the hiring of hospital staff.

Umbria is the latest historically left-leaning region to swing to the right, after mayoral election votes saw the right-wing coalition surge in areas including Ferrara and Forli earlier this year.

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