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.
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
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.