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Left holds Italy’s Emilia Romagna in key regional vote

Italy's populist leader Matteo Salvini failed to win a key regional election and topple the country's fragile coalition government, official results showed on Monday.

Left holds Italy's Emilia Romagna in key regional vote
Electoral posters during the hotly fought campaign in Emilia Romagna. Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

The defeat was a major rebuff of Salvini and his nationalist League, which had hoped to score a historic upset and force snap elections in the regional vote in Emilia Romagna, but a high turnout favoured the incumbent centre-left candidate.

The Democratic Party's (PD) Stefano Bonaccini won 51.36 percent of the vote against the anti-immigrant League candidate Lucia Borgonzoni's 43.68 percent, according to official results released by the interior ministry on Monday.

The League's defeat now makes it harder for the party to win other key upcoming regional elections, such as Tuscany and Puglia, where it hopes to sway voters to the right. 

READ ALSO: 'Enough hate': Who are the protesting 'Sardines' packing into Italian squares?

The wealthy centre-north region of Emilia Romagna has been a stronghold of the Italian left for over 70 years, but while left-wing values still hold sway in its cities, the right had rallied serious support in towns and the countryside.

Pre-election polls showed the League neck-and-neck with the PD, which governs Italy in coalition with the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S).

Turnout in the key region was almost double at around 67 percent compared with 37 percent in 2014, potentially thanks to the support of the anti-populist youth-driven Sardines movement. Some 3.5 million citizens were eligible to cast ballots to elect the region's president.

In the smaller southern region of Calabria, the candidate of former premier Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia, Jole Santelli, won handily with 55.71 percent of the vote.

For months, the League has been hoping for a repeat of its historic win in October in Umbria, which had been a left-wing fiefdom for 50 years. League candidate Borgonzoni, 43, was overshadowed by Salvini, who held daily rallies and inundated social media with snaps of him sampling delicacies in the Parma ham and Parmesan cheese heartland.


League leader Matteo Salvini with centre-right Senator and regional candidate Lucia Borgonzoni during a rally. Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

Salvini infuriated the left on Saturday when he broke the pre-election silence — which under Italian law means candidates cannot campaign the day before a vote — by tweeting about the “eviction notice” he was set to deliver to the government.

“Arrogance never pays,” PD candidate Bonaccini said later in his victory speech, scoffing at Salvini's promises to “liberate” the region.

The PD candidate had hoped his track record in the region — which boasts low jobless figures and is home to “Made in Italy” success stories such as Ferrari and Lamborghini — would translate into victory.

He also benefitted from the Sardines movement, which was born in the region just a couple of months ago but has fast become a national symbol of protest against the far right.

Still, analysts said many local family-run, artisanal firms were disgruntled and feeling left behind by the march of globalization.

READ ALSO: Thousands of 'Sardines' rally in Bologna ahead of regional vote


An anti-League protester in Bologna a few days before Sunday's vote. Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

The League triumphed in Emilia Romagna at the European Parliament elections in May, becoming the leading party with nearly 34 percent of the votes, topping the PD's 31 percent. Just five years earlier it had taken home a mere five percent, compared to the PD's 53 percent.

On Sunday, voter Andrea Setti told AFP he felt it was even more important than usual for him to cast his ballot, as the region's political “colour”, or allegiance, was no longer clear.

“Now you cannot really know which way it's going to go,” he said.

Fellow voter Lisa Zanarini, 31, said she hoped people would not be seduced by “easy words and easy promises”.

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Editorialist Stefano Polli wrote in La Repubblica that Salvini will have to change his strategy if he hopes to prevail: “Even if the man doesn't seem capable of any other strategy besides rallies and TV talk shows”.

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte had dismissed fears of a government crisis were Salvini's party to win, saying the election concerned the region alone and had no bearing on national politics.

The coalition's main stabilizing factor is a joint fear of snap elections which would likely hand power to Salvini, whose party is well ahead in national polls. Analysts had warned that a League victory could cause the M5S, which is riven by infighting and has been haemorrhaging members, to collapse.

Contested M5S head Luigi Di Maio resigned Wednesday in a bid to stave off a crisis — but political watchers cautioned it may not be enough.

By AFP's Giovanni Grezzi and Ella Ide

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COVID-19 RULES

Italy eases Covid measures ahead of new government

Italy's outgoing government is easing measures against coronavirus from Saturday despite an increase in cases, weeks before handing over to a far-right administration that has criticised the tough restrictions.

Italy eases Covid measures ahead of new government

Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s government said it would not renew regulations requiring FFP2 face masks to be worn on public transport – these expired on Friday.

However, it has extended for another month the requirement to wear face masks in hospitals and other healthcare settings, as well as residential facilities for the elderly.

READ ALSO:  Why are so many Italians still wearing face masks in shops?

By the time that rule expires on October 31, a new government led by far-right leader Giorgia Meloni is expected to be in place — with a very different attitude to Covid-19 restrictions than Draghi’s.

Italy was the first European country to face the full force of the coronavirus pandemic in early 2020, and has had some of the toughest restrictions.

Last winter, it required certain categories of workers to be vaccinated and demanded proof of a negative test, recent recovery from the virus or vaccination — the so-called Green pass — to enter public places.

READ ALSO: What is Italy’s Covid vaccination plan this autumn?

The pass was strongly criticised by Meloni’s Brothers of Italy party, which swept to a historic victory in elections on Sunday.

“We are against this certificate, full stop,” the party’s head of health policy, Marcello Gemmato, La Repubblica newspaper on Friday.

He said it gave “false security” because even after vaccination, people could get and spread coronavirus.

Gemmato said vaccines should be targeted at older people and those with health problems, but not be obligatory, adding that the requirement for healthcare workers to be vaccinated would not be renewed when it expires at
the end of the year.

READ ALSO: Italy gives green light to new dual-strain Covid vaccines

Cases of coronavirus are rising slightly again in Italy, likely due to the return of schools and universities.

More than 177,000 people with coronavirus have died in Italy since the start of the pandemic.

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