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Matteo Salvini with Lucia Borgonzoni. Twitter

Salvini’s party narrowly loses in leftwing fief Emilia-Romagna

The ruling leftist coalition partner, the Democratic Party (PD) held onto Emilia-Romagna in regional elections in Italy on Sunday against Matteo Salvini's League party.

Published: January 28, 2020, 8:57 am

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    The win provided some relief for the coalition PD-Five Star (M5S) government in Rome. The M5S candidate, Simone Benini, saw his vote collapse to 3,5 percent compared to the 33 percent score in national elections two years ago. The vote compounded the travails of the M5S, whose leader, Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio, resigned amid defections last week.

    Salvini’s party was the top party in the leftwing fief in last year’s European elections, and he had had vowed to “evict” Premier Giuseppe Conte’s government in the event of a win in Emilia-Romagna.

    However, the PD’s incumbent Governor Stefano Bonaccini received 51,6 percent of the vote, while his League challenger Lucia Borgonzoni, got 43,7 percent.

    PD leader Nicola Zingaretti said Italy was returning to a “bipolar” left-right system after years of tripolar politics with the anti-establishment M5S in the political mix. The PD picked up the votes of many disaffected M5S voters.

    “Salvini has lost and the government is stronger,” he said. “This stronger government should now relaunch its action,” he said, referring to an upcoming state-of-government ‘verification’ aimed at drawing up a new agenda, hopefully until the end of the parliamentary term in 2023.

    Salvini hailed his party’s results in the central-northern region. “For the first time in 70 years we made a game of it,” he said. He said that “change in Emilia Romagna is just postponed”.

    “We have now won eight regions out of nine, it could have been worse,” Salvini said. “We’re preparing ourselves for five years of passionate opposition,” he said.

    “I’d do everything over again, even the doorbell,” he said, referring to a controversial call on a Bologna Tunisian family asking if a drug pusher, the son, lived there.

    Prime Minister Conte called Salvini’s anti-drug message “disgraceful and obscurantist”. The Tunisian family has hired a lawyer and the teenager suspected of selling drugs said “now they’re all calling me a pusher, before they used to call me ‘cartola’,” a Bolognese expression for a likeable and lively character.

    Surrounded by a crowd of supporters and accompanied by a film crew, Salvini went to the home of the suspected pusher in Bologna’s working class and high-crime Pilastro district after a local mother who had lost her son to drugs, said the teenager as a pusher.

    Salvini also defended the decision to end the campaign in Bibbiano, where a foster scandal hit the PD, after accusations of exploiting children for electoral reasons. He had been hoping to wrest another leftwing stronghold from the PD after an upset win in Umbria last year.

    Analysts believe that the PD, so far the junior partner in the alliance, was now likely to push ahead with the reform of the statute of limitations.

    They said the PD victory in and around Bologna could be attributed the new “grassroots” leftwing Sardines movement, which sprang up and packed squares in Emilia-Romagna in November in opposition to Salvini and challenged him directly in the regional elections.

    Bonaccini told a press conference that he had phoned Sardines leader Mattia Santori on Monday and thanked him for their “extraordinary mobilisation”. Previously, the PD had maintained that the Sardines were a “spontaneous” group which had formed.

    The four founders of the Sardines from Bologna issued a statement saying “now it’s up to us, the hardest part if starting”. The added: “We will be present and ready for battle where they are going to vote, especially if the (populist) style which (the League) has shown in Emilia-Romagna and Calabria is re-presented in Puglia, Campania, Marche, Tuscany, Liguria, and Val d’Aosta”.

    Zingaretti also praised the Sradines at a press conference because “they convinced many people to turn out and vote”.

    In Sunday’s other regional elections, the centre-right’s Jole Santelli, from Silvio Berlusconi’s centre-right Forza Italia (FI) party, triumphed by 55 percent to 30 percent over the PD’s Filippo Calippo. Santelli has become the first woman governor of Calabria, and in southern Italy as a whole.

    In a move to boost transparency, she announced that she would install video cameras and a tape recorder in her office to fight attempted corruption.

    The M5S vote had also collapsed and its candidate, Francesco Aiello, only received 7 percent of the votes, failing to reach the 8 percent threshold needed to be represented on the regional council.

    After the threat to the coalition government eased, the spread between Italian and German 10-year bond yields, a sign of global support, dropped to below 140 points, on 138 basis points, from 156 last Friday.

    Conte stressed that “it was not a vote on the government” and said he was not changing his mind just because of the PD win, after a late opinion-poll showed a lead for Bergonzoni. The premier added: “the big loser here was Salvini”.

    “I’m hoping for a broad progressive front against the various rightwing forces”, Conte added, referring also to two other foes, Giorgia Meloni’s far-right Brothers of Italy (FdI) and Berlusconi’s FI. Both ran with the League in Emilia-Romagna and Calabria.

    After calling for the M5S to team up with the PD in a “more organic” way, Conte also said that the turmoil in the M5S was not causing any government instability. “Now it’s time for agenda 2023, and let the parties stop plating flags,” the premier said.

    On tensions between the PD and M5S, he said “the numbers in parliament are unchanged” despite some 20 M5S defections. Zingaretti, for his part, said “we’re backing Conte to open stage two of the government”.

    There are another two coalition government partners, former PD leader and ex-premier Matteo Renzi’s Italia Viva (IV) party, and the PD splinter leftwing group Free and Equal (LeU).

    Attention has now been turned to seven other regional elections after Spring, with crunch tests in Veneto and Liguria where the League will be aiming to hold on to heartlands after several multiple mandates.

    The PD and the League will also face up in Puglia, Marche, Tuscany, Campania and Val d’Aosta.

    This week, Salvini tweeted that migrant numbers were spiking once again. “In January 2020 landings quintupled compared to the same period last year. The only ones who celebrate are the smugglers and human traffickers who deal with arms and drugs with the money from travel.”

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    • LuciusAnnaeusSeneca

      Excellent analysis. The Conte-2 government is closer than ever to collapse, despite media reports. The latter would see what happened on Sunday as a setback for Salvini, and are crowing about the PD victory in Emilia-Romagna. But the center-right made gains there, winning 19 seats in the regional assembly, a gain of 7. The PD has 29, having lost 3, and M5S trains, with only 2, having lost 3.

      Calabria was more of a disaster for the center-left than the media have mentioned. In addition to losing by 20 points, the center-left lost 9 seats, keeping only 11. The center-right gained those 9 seats, and now has 20, plus the regional executive.

      There are six more regional elections slated for 2020, in Tuscany, Liguria, Veneto, Campania, Apulia, and Marche. The last three, in center-left hands, will likely be easier targets than Emilia-Romagna proved this past Sunday. That might be one reason for the formation of the Sardines, the true nature of which is emerging–it is not just a flash mob for the Italian left, but wannabee blackshirts.


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