Italian Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Matteo Salvini gestures during a press conference at the Lega headquarters in northern Milan following the results of the European parliamentary elections, May 27, 2019.
MIGUEL MEDINA | AFP | Getty Images
Italy’s fragile coalition government is breathing a sigh of relief after Matteo Salvini, a prominent right-wing politician, failed to win a much-watched regional election over the weekend.
But the vote exposed the weak momentum behind the government in Rome.
The anti-immigration Lega opposition party, led by Salvini, lost Sunday’s vote in Emilia-Romagna to the incumbent centre-left Democratic Party (PD).
With most votes counted on Monday morning, PD candidate Stefano Bonaccini was seen with 51.4% of the vote and his Lega-backed rival Lucia Borgonzoni with nearly 44% of the vote. The candidate of the populist movement Five Stars (M5S) obtained less than 5% of the vote, according to the preliminary results of the region.
Although the result is something of a reprieve for Italy’s fragile coalition government, made up of the PD party and M5S, Salvini’s Lega party is leading national polls and has performed well in several other key regional elections. , including an election in the southern region of Calabria on Sunday in which the Lega, along with other centre-right parties, won the majority of votes.
In the meantime, the M5S has polled the regional elections poorly and last week its leader Luigi Di Maio resigned, calling into question the future of the movement and its place in the coalition government.
In this context and despite the defeat of the Lega in Emilia-Romagna, the new PD-M5S coalition led by Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte is as weak as before, according to political analysts and economists.
“In the aftermath of Salvini’s defeat in Emilia-Romagna – where he has campaigned tirelessly across the region since mid-November – the risk of a snap legislative election is lower,” said Wolfango Piccoli, co-president of Teneo Intelligence. , in a footnote. Monday.
“However, the likely narrow margin of victory for the center-left in this traditionally left-wing bastion shows once again that Conte’s PD-Five Star Movement (M5S) coalition government rests on rather shaky foundations,” he said. he noted.
Loredana Maria Federico, chief Italian economist at Unicredit, said in a note on Monday that “political tensions are likely to persist, as several disputes within the ruling coalition are likely to remain.”
The disputes mainly center on the government majority’s difficulty in advancing judicial reform, how to proceed in the case of the struggling Ilva steel mill, and differences of opinion on how to deal with the operators of highways following the collapse of a bridge in Genoa which killed 43 people in 2018.
These conflicts are ones in which the M5S, PD and smaller coalition partners will struggle to find common ground, Federico said, adding that as a result cabinet meetings and approval processes at the Parliament will be followed closely in the coming months.
The vote in Emilia-Romagna, seen as a bastion of the left as the centre-left has ruled the region since World War II, was seen as a litmus test of the centre-left’s resistance to a seemingly growing Lega party. more prosperous and Salvini, who wants to be the next Italian Prime Minister.
Salvini and his Lega party had been part of a coalition government with M5S, but Salvini pulled out of the alliance last summer in a move seen as part of a strategy to undermine and provoke the collapse of government.
The coalition had run into trouble with Brussels over budget spending promises; Lega, in particular, is also known for its antagonistic stance towards the EU.
Barclays analysts said the Emilia-Romagna result could galvanize the PD-M5S alliance to build a stronger political platform and restart the clock on the sustainability of the Conte-led second coalition, although risks included uncertainty over the new M5S leader and possible defections to the opposition, further weakening the M5S and the government.
As such, Sunday’s result was indeed a “short sigh of relief” as further regional elections and a crucial referendum (on reducing the number of lawmakers) loom on the horizon.
“Regional elections are expected to continue to rock the national government as six more are expected to take place in May/June 2020,” Barclays economists said in a note on Monday.
“Salvini will likely continue to focus his efforts on securing as many regional successes as possible to undermine the legitimacy of the national government. In addition, the constitutional referendum on reducing the number of deputies (from 630 to 400 in the lower house and from 315 to 200 in the Senate) is also supposed to take place between mid-March and June, and could bring new political tensions.