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Why the rest of Italy is watching Tuscany’s regional elections closely

Seven Italian regions go to the polls for regional elections on Sunday and Monday. But the close-run vote in Tuscany could decide the course of the country's political future.

Why the rest of Italy is watching Tuscany's regional elections closely
A van displays a campaign poster for League candidate Susanna Ceccardi for the upcoming regional elections in Florence, Tuscany. Photo: AFP

People in seven of italy's 20 regions head to the polls this weekend for a referendum and regional polls. In Tuscany, analysts say the vote could change the face of the far-right.

It will be the first test for Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte's centre-left coalition government since the Covid-19 outbreak and the economically-crippling nationwide lockdown that followed.
 
 
“A landslide for the right would push the government in Rome into disarray,” Berenberg analyst Florian Hense told AFP.
 
It could also seal the fate of far-right League head Matteo Salvini; potentially launching the opposition leader back to stardom should his party snatch the left-wing bastion of Tuscany – or handing his challengers the ammunition to replace him as party head should it lose.
 
'Italians first'
 
Voters in face masks will cast their ballots on Sunday and Monday, with polling stations in schools and other public buildings opening despite concerns about coronavirus infection.
 
While it currently has far fewer new cases than Britain, France or Spain, they still number over 1,000 daily – a significant rise from the numbers seen in July.
 
The regional elections will be held in Campania, Liguria, Marche, Puglia, Tuscany, Valle d'Aosta and Veneto.
 
Between the national election in early 2018 and the Covid-19 outbreak, the right has taken over in 8 out of 9 regional races, partly due to the left's inability to unite behind a single candidate. Experts warn of a repeat at this vote.
 
Map showing the current ruling party in each region. Regions going to the polls this week are marked in grey with a coloured border. Map: Wikimedia Commons
 
The most high-profile battle is for Tuscany, which has been ruled by the left for 50 years.
 
The last polls before a pre-vote blackout showed a tight race, with the underdog candidate for Matteo Salvini's far-right League gaining ground.
 
League candidate and MEP Susanna Ceccardi, who uses Salvini's “Italians first” mantra, held 41.5 percent of voter intentions, compared to 43.7 percent for rival
Eugenio Giani from the centre-left Democratic Party (PD), according to polling firm YouTrend.
 
In previous regional elections in January, a similarly close battle was fought in neighbouring Emilia-Romagna – but the left held on. Like Tuscany, the region has long been seen as a left-wing stronghold and part of the “red belt”.
 
 
 
A coalition of right-wing parties also hopes to snatch the southern region of Puglia, currently governed by the centre-left Democratic Party (PD).
 
The left is expected to hold onto Campania in the south.
 
The right is set to win by a long way in its strongholds of Veneto and Liguria, as well as taking the Marche region from the left.
 
Losing Marche and Puglia would be a blow to the left, but even if it should lose Tuscany too, “I don't think it would topple the government”,
Franco Pavoncello, political science professor at the John Cabot University in Rome, told AFP.
 
Political commentator Barbara Fiammeri for Italy's Sole 24 Ore daily agreed, but said the results “could decide the destiny of the leaders”,
including PD chief Nicola Zingaretti and PM Conte, but particularly Salvini and Meloni.
 
(R-L) League head Matteo Salvini, head of the Brothers of Italy (FdI) party Giorgia Meloni, and co-founder of the Forza Italia party, Antonio Tajani, at an anti-government demonstration in Rome in June. Photo: AFP
 
Shining star or sinking ship?
 
“The Tuscany contest will be decisive for Matteo Salvini,” whose popularity has waned during and also before the pandemic, she told AFP.
 
If the League wins “his star will shine once more and no-one will question his leadership. It would a sensational result.
 
“But if he loses, and Meloni's candidate wins in the Marche and Puglia, Meloni could present a serious challenge,” she said.
 
The referendum is on slashing the number of members of parliament – from 630 to 400 in the lower house, and 315 to 200 in the upper house – and is
expected to pass, though to little fanfare.
 
The cost-cutting reform is the brainchild of the co-governing Five Star Movement (M5S).
 
 
While its centre-left coalition Democratic Party (PD) partner and parties on the right are theoretically in favour, their support has been lacklustre at
best.
 
The latest polls suggested support for the 'no' vote was growing, but the likely low turnout would probably favour the 'yes' vote.
 
A disappointing result on the referendum could make an already poorly-performing M5S, which has a strained relationship with the PD, “even more nervous, and an even less unreliable coalition partner”, Hense said.

 

 

 

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POLITICS

Italy’s government to continue sending weapons to Ukraine in 2023

Italy's new government issued a decree on Thursday to continue sending weapons to Ukraine through 2023, continuing the previous administration's policy of support to Kyiv.

Italy's government to continue sending weapons to Ukraine in 2023

The decree extends to December 31, 2023 an existing authorisation for “the transfer of military means, materials and equipment to the government authorities of Ukraine,” according to a government statement.

Since taking office in October, Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has repeatedly voiced her support for Kyiv while underlying the importance of the Atlantic alliance.

In her first speech to parliament, the leader of the Brothers of Italy party pledged to “continue to be a reliable partner of NATO in supporting Ukraine.”

Her predecessor Mario Draghi was a staunch supporter of Kyiv, but the issue of sending arms to Ukraine split the biggest party in parliament during his coalition government, the Five Star Movement.

That friction led to the early elections that brought Meloni to power.

Parliament now has 60 days to vote the decree into law.

READ ALSO: Outcry in Italy after Berlusconi defends Putin’s invasion of Ukraine

Despite Meloni’s efforts to reassure her Western allies of Italy’s support for the EU’s and NATO’s Ukraine strategy, including sanctions on Russia, the close ties to Russia of her two coalition partners have come under scrutiny.

Both Matteo Salvini of the League party and former premier Silvio Berlusconi, who leads Forza Italia, have long enjoyed warm relations with Russia.

In October, an audio tape of Berlusconi was leaked to the media in which the former premier described how he had received a birthday present of vodka from Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In the tape, he also expressed concerns about sending weapons and cash to Kyiv and appeared to blame the war on Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky.

Berlusconi later issued a statement saying his personal position on Ukraine “does not deviate” from that of Italy and the EU.

Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, Salvini, too, has come under fire for his relations with Moscow, including a report that he dined with Russia’s ambassador to Rome just days after that country’s invasion of Ukraine.

Salvini, who has criticised EU sanctions as ineffective, has long admired Putin, even wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the Russian leader’s face.

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