A center-right coalition led by the once-powerful League leader Matteo Salvini won in three Italian regions but failed to snatch the left-wing stronghold of Tuscany, where the close-fought battle was seen as decisive for the country – and for Salvini.
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The right triumphed instead in its usual strongholds of Veneto and Liguria, as well as taking Marche.
This means 15 of Italy's regions are now ruled by the right-wing coalition, which is made up of Salvini's league, Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia, and Fratelli d'Italia, led by Gioirgia Meloni.
But the defeat in the high-profile battle for the left-wing bastion of Tuscany, ruled by the left for 50 years, came as a blow for the right-wing coalition and a boost to the national government.
“It's an extraordinary victory,” the region's centre-left Democratic Party (PD) candidate Eugenio Giani said, as Salvini admitted “we knew it would be an extremely difficult fight”.
Experts had warned that a flurry of right-wing victories in the elections in seven regions could further fracture the brittle national governing coalition
of the centre-left PD and its ruling partner, the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S).
In the southern region of Puglia too, the left fought off a bid by Giorgia Meloni's anti-immigration, anti-LGBT Brothers of Italy.
The left easily held Campania in the south.
“What could have been elections that hammered the coalition government, that caused it to break apart, have transformed into elections that will allow
it to survive and stay the course,” the Corriere della Sera's editor in chief Luciano Fontana said.
The two-day vote went ahead despite a threatened resurgence of the coronavirus in Italy, which is now registering more than 1,500 new cases daily.
Ballots were cast nationwide for a referendum on cutting parliament numbers, which passed easily.
A win in Tuscany would have bolstered the right's claim that the uneasy coalition was politically weak, and Italy's president should bring forward the 2023 national election.
The current government was not elected, but formed from the askes of the prevous government, which collapsed following a power grab by Matteo Salvini, whose party was formerly part of the coalition.
Salvini had hoped further victory at regional elections would push him back into the limelight and silenced his rivals for the far-right crown.
League head Matteo Salvini speaks to the media on Monday September 21st. Photo: Piero Cruciatti/AFP
His popularity soared when he served as interior minister and deputy prime minister in the last coalition government, pursuing hardline policies that were hostile to immigrants.
But with the collapse of that administration last year and the coronavirus crisis this year his profile – and his standing in the opinion polls – has
fallen. And Monday's results looked unlikely to lift it again.
“Salvini has been stopped in his tracks. The Tuscans did not fall for his propaganda,” Simona Bonafe, the PD's party leader in Tuscany where turnout was
62 percent, was quoted as saying by Florence-based newspaper La Nazione.
Giani's far-right rival in Tuscany, Susanna Ceccardi, was until recently known only to the inhabitants of Casina, a porticoed town near Pisa, which was
the first to turn to the League when she was elected mayor four years ago.
Since then, Renaissance art cities from Pisa to Siena in Tuscany have flipped to the right.
But the region has no glaring problems to drive a protest vote – the health system has performed well during the Covid-19 pandemic, immigrants are
well integrated, and the quality of life is high, political journalist Raffaele Palumbo told AFP.
Roberto Bianchi, contemporary history professor at Florence University, said the right has long tried to woo Tuscany — to little effect.
“In 2000, a frustrated Berlusconi even launched a campaign to 'de-Tuscanise Tuscany'. It was a disaster,” he said.