Surge of support for Italian anti-immigration parties

The results of two regional elections in Italy show strong support for the parties of the populist and nationalist right, though the left clung on to power in Emilia Romagna, while losing calamitously badly in Calabria.

Lega strongman Matteo Salvini (affectionately known as “il Capitano”) had a mountain to climb in Emilia Romagna, which, despite being one of Italy’s wealthiest regions, has consistently returned left wing regional governments since 1945. Indeed, its principal city, “Red Bologna” (a pun on the famous red bricks of which it is built, combined with its preference for left wing parties) was notoriously anti-fascist even in the years of Mussolini’s rule, when opposing fascism took much more courage than it does to-day.

Il Capitano’s task was not made any easier by the choice of Signora Lucia Borgonzoni to lead the right-wing coalition. She is relatively unknown, whereas the centre-left’s candidate, Stefano Bonaccini, was the outgoing regional president who had, by common consent even of his political opponents, led a highly competent administration for many years.

Italy’s complicated version of proportional representation means that different parties find it helpful to group together in combined lists, while maintaining their separate identities by a process of allocation of seats within the list according to the percentage taken by each constituent party.

For each region there are moreover (confusingly) two sets of statistics, one for the election of the regional president, another for the elections to the regional parliament.

While Signor Bonaccini won the regional presidency by a convincing margin (51.4% of the vote to Signora Borgonzoni’s 43.6% and a paltry 3.47% for the Five Star (left populist) Simone Benini), voting for the regional parliament was much closer than predicted by the opinion polls.

In the event, the centre left list took 48.7% to the right’s 45.5%, Five Star’s list polling only 3.4%.

The votes cast for the left were apportioned between the Democratic Party (liberal-left) on 34.59%, a Bonaccini support group (left) taking 5.8%, and several smaller green or leftist parties making up the balance of the left’s vote (excluding the Five Star movement, which, as we have seen, presented its own remarkably unsuccessful list).

The lion’s share of the vote on the right went to the Lega on 31.9%, with fourteen seats in the 48 member regional parliament, while the Fratelli d’Italia (who do not disguise or apologise for their fascist heritage) polled a satisfactory 8.6%, so taking three seats in the regional parliament. The rump of Berlusconi’s Forza Italia took the one remaining seat allocated to the right-wing parties.

Lega leader Matteo Salvini (above right) with his party’s regional candidate in Emilia-Romagna, Lucia Borgonzoni.

While some on the left have sought to portray the results in Emilia Romagna as a major blow to Matteo Salvini’s hopes of returning to power, in truth his list ran the left to within less than 4% of the vote in the left’s strongest region in the face of a national mobilisation of leftist activists.

The big winner in Emilia Romagna was turnout at 67.67%, up from a very low 38% at the previous regional elections. The big loser was the Five Star Movement. It presented a joint list with the Communists (once a major political party in Italy) but polled only 3.4%, below the threshold for representation in the regional parliament.

Meanwhile in the poor southern region of Calabria, the left was routed. Here the centre left vote was very fragmented across multiple lists, so that Forza Italia’s candidate took the regional presidency with an impressive 55.3% of the total vote, while the second placed candidate took only 30%, and multiple other lists share the remaining 14.7% of the vote.

Forza Italia took 12.58% of the vote on the party list system, the Lega 12.21% and the Fratelli a pleasing 11.14%. The vote on the left was ever more fragmented over multiple parties.

Jole Santelli (above left), winner of the Calabrian regional election, with her Forza Italia party leader, Silvio Berlusconi. While Forza Italia is now very much the smallest and declining partner in the populist right coalition nationwide, it is the largest coalition partner in Calabria.

While il Capitano was denied the victory in Emilia Romagna that would probably have led to the collapse of the present Five Star/Democratic Party coalition that clings tenuously to power in Rome, both the Lega and the Fratelli continue to make encouraging progress, while Five Star is on the verge of collapse.

To put Five Star’s performance in context, it is still the largest party in the Italian parliament, but now faces annihilation whenever and wherever new elections are held. It was the future once, but is now given over to internecine strife so bitter that its former leader, Luigi di Maio, resigned a few days ago, saying that his real enemies were all elected representatives of his own party, which sounds even worse than our own, dear Labour party.

While nothing is certain in an uncertain world, it does seem likely that a Lega/Fratelli/Forza Italia coalition will at some point take power in Rome, but this time, unlike in 1922, by completely lawful and democratic means.

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