Italy's Far-Right Promised a Landslide in Local Elections, But Failed

Italy just voted on a referendum and in local elections. The country's fragile coalition government came out stronger, but the far-right still made its presence known.
September 22, 2020, 3:17pm
Matteo Salvini addresses a press conference at the Lega headquarters in Milan​
Matteo Salvini addresses a press conference at the Lega headquarters in Milan. Photo: PIERO CRUCIATTI/AFP via Getty Images

Over the past two days, Italy voted on two key elections – a referendum to cut the number of Members of Parliament from the current 945 down to 600, plus regional and municipal elections in parts of the country. Launched as one of the most important campaign promises made by the ruling Five Star Movement, the referendum won by almost 70 percent. In a rare move in Italian politics, most parties came out in support of the change and passed the motion in parliament in October 2019. As per Italian law, the move had to be backed by a referendum because it modifies the constitution.

In parallel, regional and municipal elections were held in seven regions. Although far-right leader Salvini had previously announced his coalition would win it all, the centre-left Democratic Party managed to hold on to the Campania, Puglia and Emilia Romagna regions. Salvini is the head of the Lega party and of a rightwing alliance with Brothers of Italy and Berlusconi’s Forza Italia. They won in Veneto, Lega’s stronghold, in Valle d’Aosta and Liguria. More worryingly, a candidate from Brothers of Italy managed to take the eastern Marche region after 25 years under centre-left control. Brothers of Italy has neo-fascists origins and has been rising in the polls.

But analysts see these results as a de-facto tie or even a loss for the far-right. Salvini’s party came in third in the last parliamentary elections in 2018 with 17 percent of the votes, after the populist Five Start Movement with 32 percent and the Democratic party with 19 percent. Five Star and Lega initially governed together, but the tables quickly turned. Salvini’s party gained in popularity – at its peak 34 percent of voters supported it. In August 2019, he boycotted his own government and tried to force early elections. But the Five Star Movement did not relinquish power and formed a new government with the Democratic Party instead.

This unelected government has a very fragile mandate, so many did not expect it to survive these elections. But Salvini has been losing votes and these results seem to solidify the Five Star Movement and Democratic Party alliance instead of weakening it. The governing coalition will now have to work on a series of reforms to make the implementation of the parliamentary slash possible, which will give it stability, at least in the short term. With an economy hard-hit by the coronavirus crisis and a political system used to turmoil, that’s all Italians against the far-right could have hoped for.