Italy elections boost centre-right parties amid frustration over economy, immigration

The leader of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, Beppe Grillo. In the complicated calculus of Italian politics, the local elections may have adjusted variables just enough to change national outcomes.
The leader of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, Beppe Grillo. In the complicated calculus of Italian politics, the local elections may have adjusted variables just enough to change national outcomes. PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

ROME (NYTIMES) - Centre-right parties scored victories Sunday (June 25) evening in runoff elections in more than 100 Italian towns and cities, a result that emboldened right-wing parties, raised the prospect of shifting coalitions and took the political temperature of Italy ahead of national elections expected within the next year.

According to official results, candidates representing the centre-right won many of the major contests, including in the northern port city of Genoa, a stronghold of the centre-left for half a century.

"Always more positive news, from many cities! Go, go, go!" Matteo Salvini, the leader of the right-wing and anti-immigrant Northern League, who campaigned vigorously for the winning mayoral candidate in Genoa, wrote on Twitter late Sunday.

In the complicated calculus of Italian politics, the local elections may have adjusted variables just enough to change national outcomes. Salvini is now expected to argue that he is someone to be courted, either by the centre-right - once again led by a reanimated former prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi - or by the leader of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, Beppe Grillo.

Get The Straits Times
newsletters in your inbox

Italian voters had a lot to think about. A slumping economy, frustration with the European Union and a seemingly incessant tide of migrants from North Africa converged on voters on Election Day, which took place as the centre-left government worked to avoid another banking crisis.

Some analysts argued that local concerns more than national issues determined the results, while others doubted that the centre-right would be as united in national elections as it was in local ones.

Also, not many people voted. The turnout dropped steeply compared with the first round of voting on June 11. Not surprisingly, the governing centre-left played down the results, which included votes cast in 13 of 22 provincial capitals, arguing that the local elections were not a national barometer.

Still, some members acknowledged the lackluster result.

"There is a problem," Gea Schirò, a member of Parliament with the governing Democratic Party, acknowledged on Italian television.

But she added that the most important takeaway was that the Five Star Movement, which she characterized as a threat to centrist parties and Italian democracy, had a poor showing.

Indeed, the rise of the Five Star Movement has awoken some of Italy's long dormant power brokers, like Berlusconi. Now softening his image and appealing to older voters by frequently appearing in the company of lambs and fluffy dogs, Berlusconi campaigned in the weeks before the vote.

Former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, head of the Democratic Party, mostly laid low before the vote. In the hours after, Renzi, a former mayor of Florence, noted on his Facebook page some victories for the centre-left and bitingly predicted "apocalyptic" and overreaching commentary in the coming days, "because mayoral elections are something different from political elections."

His opponents within the party wasted no time after the vote urging a reassessment of the Democrats' message and course.

In Genoa, Marco Bucci, a mayoral candidate and a favorite of the Northern League, won handily. In L'Aquila, demolished by an earthquake years ago, voters chose a new center-right mayor.

In Parma, Federico Pizzarotti, who notably broke with the Five Star Movement over its lack of transparency, was easily re-elected mayor.

Months ago, the Five Star Movement had hoped to send a message with a show of strength in local elections. Genoa is the home of Grillo, the party's leader. But it suffered a serious setback June 11, leaving the governing centre-left and the centre-right parties jostling for an edge.

Immigration emerged as a theme in several elections, especially in Italy's border towns.

In Como, a luxury destination on the Swiss border, the controversy over hundreds of migrants' sleeping in reception centres or on the lawns around the lake became a major campaign issue. Right-wing national politicians campaigned for a centre-right candidate, Mario Landriscina, in the closing days. Landriscina won.

On the tiny southern Sicilian island of Lampedusa, a landing point for thousands of migrants, Mayor Giusi Nicolini, who received the Unesco Peace Prize for her championing of migrants, failed to make it out of the first round of voting.

Ignazio La Russa, a leader of the right-wing Fratelli d'Italia, spoke elatedly on Italian television as the numbers rolled in.

"It's clamorous!" he said.