Italians voted yesterday in a key regional election which the far-right hopes will shake the country’s fragile coalition government to its core and return strongman Matteo Salvini to power.
The wealthy centre-north region of Emilia Romagna has been a stronghold of the Italian left for over 70 years, but while left-wing values still hold sway in its cities, the right has been rallying serious support in towns and the countryside.
The last surveys published before the pre-election media blackout showed the anti-immigrant League neck-and-neck with the centre-left Democratic Party (PD), which governs Italy in coalition with the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement (M5S).
Some 3.5mn citizens are eligible to cast ballots to elect the region’s president between 7am (0600 GMT) and 11pm, alongside similar regional elections in the smaller southern region of Calabria.
Turnout in Emilia Romagna was high at midday (1100 GMT), at over 23%, compared to just 11% at the same time during the last regional elections.
The League is hoping for a repeat of its historic win in October in Umbria, which had been a left-wing fiefdom for 50 years.
Its candidate in Emilia Romagna, Lucia Borgonzoni, 43, has been overshadowed by Salvini, who has held daily rallies and inundated social media with snaps of him sampling delicacies in the Parma ham and Parmesan cheese heartland.
Salvini infuriated the left on Saturday when he broke the pre-election silence – which under Italian law means candidates cannot campaign the day before a vote – by tweeting about the “eviction notice” he was set to deliver to the government.
The PD’s candidate Stefano Bonaccini is the incumbent president and hoping to win on his track record in the region, which boasts low jobless figures and is home to “Made in Italy” success stories such as Ferrari and Lamborghini.
He may also benefit from the youth-driven Sardines movement, which was born in the region just a couple of months ago but has fast become a national symbol of protest against the far-right.
But analysts say many local family-run, artisanal firms are disgruntled and feeling left behind by the march of globalisation.
Others say the traditional left has abandoned those it once sought to defend for big banking interests.
The League triumphed in Emilia Romagna at the European Parliament elections in May, becoming the leading party with nearly 34% of the votes, topping the PD’s 31%.
Just five years earlier it had taken home a mere 5%, compared to the PD’s 53%.
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