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
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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Italian government rocked by Five Star party split

Italy’s government was plunged into turmoil on Tuesday as foreign minister Luigi Di Maio announced he was leaving his party to start a breakaway group.

Italian government rocked by Five Star party split

Di Maio said his decision to leave the Five Star Movement (M5S) – the party he once led – was due to its “ambiguity” over Italy’s support of Ukraine following Russia’s invasion.

He accused the party’s current leader, former prime minister Giuseppe Conte, of undermining the coalition government’s efforts to support Ukraine and weakening Italy’s position within the EU.

“Today’s is a difficult decision I never imagined I would have to take … but today I and lots of other colleagues and friends are leaving the Five Star Movement,” Di Maio told a press conference on Tuesday.

“We are leaving what tomorrow will no longer be the first political force in parliament.”

His announcement came after months of tensions within the party, which has lost most of the popular support that propelled it to power in 2018 and risks being wiped out in national elections due next year.

The split threatens to bring instability to Draghi’s multi-party government, formed in February 2021 after a political crisis toppled the previous coalition.

As many as 60 former Five Star lawmakers have already signed up to Di Maio’s new group, “Together for the Future”, media reports said.

Di Maio played a key role in the rise of the once anti-establishment M5S, but as Italy’s chief diplomat he has embraced Draghi’s more pro-European views.

READ ALSO: How the rebel Five Star Movement joined Italy’s establishment

Despite Italy’s long-standing political and economic ties with Russia, Draghi’s government has taken a strongly pro-NATO stance, sending weapons and cash to help Ukraine while supporting EU sanctions against Russia.

Di Maio backed the premier’s strong support for Ukraine following Russia’s invasion, including sending weapons for Kyiv to defend itself.

In this he has clashed with the head of Five Star, former premier Giuseppe Conte, who argues that Italy should focus on a diplomatic solution.

Di Maio attacked his former party without naming Conte, saying: “In these months, the main political force in parliament had the duty to support the diplomacy of the government and avoid ambiguity. But this was not the case,” he said.

Luigi Di Maio (R) applauds after Prime Minister Mario Draghi (L) addresses the Italian Senate on June 21st, 2022. Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP

“In this historic moment, support of European and Atlanticist values cannot be a mistake,” he added.

The Five Star Movement, he said, had risked the stability of the government “just to try to regain a few percentage points, without even succeeding”.

But a majority of lawmakers – including from the Five Star Movement – backed Draghi’s approach in March and again in a Senate vote on Tuesday.

Draghi earlier on Tuesday made clear his course was set.

“Italy will continue to work with the European Union and with our G7 partners to support Ukraine, to seek peace, to overcome this crisis,” he told the Senate, with Di Maio at his side.

“This is the mandate the government has received from parliament, from you. This is the guide for our action.”

The Five Star Movement stormed to power in 2018 general elections after winning a third of the vote on an anti-establishment ticket, and stayed in office even after Draghi was parachuted in to lead Italy in February 2021.

But while it once threatened to upend the political order in Italy, defections, policy U-turns and dismal polling have left it struggling for relevance.

“Today ends the story of the Five Star Movement,” tweeted former premier Matteo Renzi, who brought down the last Conte government by withdrawing his support.