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Centre-left triumphs in Sardinia in defeat for Italy's PM Meloni

AFP
AFP - [email protected]
Centre-left triumphs in Sardinia in defeat for Italy's PM Meloni
Centre-left candidate Alessandra Todde has narrowly won Sardinia's regional elections. Photo by Daniel SLIM / AFP.

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni's hard-right government suffered its first electoral setback since coming to power on Tuesday, with the narrow victory of the centre-left opposition in regional elections in Sardinia.

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Alessandra Todde, an MP from the Five Star Movement allied with the Democratic Party (PD), defeated Paolo Truzzu, a member of Meloni's far-right Brothers of Italy party representing the coalition government, with 99 percent of votes counted Tuesday morning.

Her victory was by a whisker - 45.3 percent of the vote against 45 percent for Truzzu - but represents the first electoral defeat for Meloni since she took office in October 2022.

The vote also marked a breakthrough for the opposition, which has been divided until now but came together to field a joint candidate.

Todde - who becomes the first woman president of the southern Italian island - served as a junior minister under Conte and under former premier Mario Draghi.

Her election for a five-year term comes just four months ahead of European Parliament elections, a fresh test for Meloni and her coalition partners, Matteo Salvini's League and the centre-right Forza Italia.

"Today we've shown that the right can be beaten," said Elly Schlein, leader of the centre-left Democratic Party.

Former premier Giuseppe Conte, leader of the Five Star Movement, added: "Sardinian citizens have closed the door on Meloni and company and opened it to the alternative. The air has changed."

Experts caution about reading too much into a regional vote heavily influenced by local factors, from healthcare to a corruption investigation against the right-wing incumbent.

Nationwide, Meloni's party has been leading opinion polls ever since her election.

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The latest YouTrend collation of polls puts Brothers of Italy at 28 percent of support, compared to 19.6 percent for the Democratic Party and 16.2 percent for the Five Star Movement.

"Every regional election is regional, you shouldn't extrapolate too much," Daniele Albertazzi, a professor of politics and expert on populism at Britain's University of Surrey, told AFP.

But the vote underscored how "either the Democratic Party and Five Star find a way to win together, or it's very, very unlikely that either of them is able to prevail".

Truzzu, the mayor of Sardinia's capital Cagliari, took personal responsibility for his defeat, noting he failed to clinch victory even in his
own city.

"The truth is that Meloni is not responsible. They were not national elections," the 51-year-old told reporters.

But Meloni had pressed hard for his nomination, and many commentators characterised it as her personal failure.

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Her main coalition ally, Matteo Salvini, had wanted a new term for incumbent Christian Solinas, elected in 2019. But Solinas withdrew his nomination just weeks before the vote after coming under investigation for corruption.

"Overall, Meloni has made few mistakes so far...but this will be used by Salvini to say that she is not invincible," said Albertazzi.

He said she was still on course to do well in European Parliament elections in June – but the setback may allow her allies to assert themselves, particularly in the choice of candidates for upcoming regional elections.

Albertazzi predicted no serious trouble from the League or her third coalition partner, the right-leaning Forza Italia, as "there is no choice for them" but to stay.

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