Salvini’s coalition sweeps to power in Umbria elections
A coalition led by the far-right former interior minister Matteo Salvini has swept to power in the central Italian region of Umbria, ending 50 years of leftwing rule and further shaking the resilience of the national government.
Salvini has bounced back after his League party was ejected from office in August after his failed attempt to bring about snap general elections. Its former partner, the Five Star Movement (M5S), then went into coalition with the centre-left Democratic party (PD).
Donatella Tesei of the League was elected president of Umbria after capturing 57% of the vote on Sunday, backed by the smaller far-right party Brothers of Italy and Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia.
The result means the M5S and PD alliance has stumbled in its first electoral test, with the joint candidate, Vincenzo Bianconi, who was also backed by other leftwing and green groups, taking 37% of the vote.
Elections in Umbria, a hilly region with a population of about 900,000, were brought forward by a year after Catiuscia Marini of the PD was forced to resign as president in April amid an investigation into the manipulation of entrance exams for staff at a hospital in Perugia.
Salvini’s coalition campaigned heavily as it seized on the scandal as well as the PD’s neglect of areas of the region that were affected by earthquakes in 2016.
But as the trio celebrated what Salvini hailed “a historical feat”, the mood in the hilltop town of Orvieto was despondent on Monday morning, with voters saying they had been faced with “a choice between thieves and haters”.
Orvieto, for years a communist stronghold, had already been divided after the Salvini coalition’s candidate, Roberta Tardani, won mayoral elections in May. One of her first moves was to ban African immigrants from begging for money on the streets, with a Nigerian man arrested and prohibited from returning to the town for three years.
Salvini has visited Orvieto three times since Tardani’s election, joking that he would like to move there.
Much of the Salvini coalition’s campaigning in Umbria contained the usual mix of anti-immigrant, anti-gay rhetoric and religious symbolism. Giorgia Meloni, the leader of Brothers of Italy, took a selfie outside Orvieto’s gothic cathedral on Friday and posted it on social media alongside the message: “Someone will be shocked, but I repeat: we will continue to defend God, the homeland and the family. Also in Umbria”.
“It was no surprise that they won,” said Elisabetta Spallaccia, a shop owner in Orvieto. “I’ve always been a leftwing voter and while I voted for the PD I was very sceptical about supporting them again. I cannot tolerate what the rightwing parties say but can understand why there was a vote for change. The real left doesn’t really exist any more.”
The Salvini coalition also promised to cut taxes and revive Umbria’s economy, which has been sluggish since the financial crisis of 2007.
Alessandro Foresi, a bar owner, said: “It’s an epochal change, but it’s also a change that people wanted. They believed in what the rightwing alliance had to say. And if you look at the national government, they can’t seem to progress.”
The M5S and PD alliance, led by the prime minister, Giuseppe Conte, has been struggling to garner faith. Its six weeks in power have been blighted by bickering, particularly over the budget for 2020. Unlike the close-knit rightwing coalition, the former rivals only campaigned together in Umbria a few days before the election. M5S, which up until early this year was Italy’s largest party, was the biggest loser, scoring just 7.4%.
Salvini, who led a far-right rally in Rome on 19 October that was attended by thousands, said the government’s days were numbered, while Meloni, whose party won 10% in Umbria, said: “If I was Conte, I’d hand in my resignation faster than light.”
The government will face its next test in regional elections in Calabria in December, followed by Emilia-Romagna, another leftwing stronghold, in January.