A regional election in northern Italy has delivered a blow to populist right-wing figure Matteo Salvini. But while the center-left candidate in the elections for the Emilia-Romagna region saw off the populist threat – with the help of a grassroots campaign movement called The Sardines – his party’s national government looks far from secure.
Stefano Bonaccini’s re-election as the governor of Emilia-Romagna matters because it has given hope that the erosion of the left’s traditional dominance of local politics in the four central regions once known as the red belt — Tuscany, Umbria, the Marches and Emilia-Romagna — is not unstoppable.
Emilia-Romagna is the richest, most populous and, historically, also the most solidly left-wing area in the red belt. But the right-wing League has been growing in popularity in the area, especially since Salvini took over the party in 2013.
He saw this regional election as a golden opportunity to bring down the government – a fragile coalition between the center-left Democratic Party (PD) and the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S). The latter had been in national government with Salvini until their partnership collapsed in 2019 and many see the new arrangement as being geared more towards keeping Salvini away from power rather than providing a functioning administration.
Salvini therefore sought to turn this regional election into a test of whether the national government enjoyed the confidence of the electorate. A right-wing victory would have set off a campaign to force the governing parties to stand down and hold a general election.
The League has become increasingly popular in Emilia-Romagna, while the incumbent PD has been shrinking, so the vote was considered winnable by Salvini and his supporters.
Daniele Albertazzi is Reader in Politics at the Department of Politics and International Studies of the University of Birmingham. He is the Principal Investigator of the project “The Survival of the Mass Party: Evaluating Activism and Participation Among Populist Radical Right Parties in Europe” (aka “Populism In Action”), funded by the ESRC (ES/R011540/1) and hosted on EA WorldView.Daniele has published widely on European politics in international journals such as West European Politics, Party Politics and Government & Opposition. He is the co-editor (with Duncan McDonnell) of Twenty-First Century Populism: The Spectre of Western European Democracy and the co-author (with Duncan McDonnell) of Populists in Power.Daniele is on Twitter at @DrAlbertazziUK.
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