A coalition led by Italian right-wing firebrand Matteo Salvini dealt a blow to the national government after his League party triumphed in the central region of Umbria — snapping 50 years of leftist rule.
Donatella Tesei, a League member and current senator who has served as mayor of a town in Umbria for 10 years, was elected governor – or president – of the region. A coalition headed by Salvini, which includes the far-right Brothers of Italy party and the center-right Forza Italia party, won a combined 57.5 percent of the vote.
These results, released Monday, mean that the populist 5-Star Movement and the center-left Democratic Party stumbled in its first electoral test, taking a combined 37.5 percent of the vote.
Since early September, the two parties have governed Italy in an uneasy alliance to keep Salvini from power.
The triumph in Umbria – a hilly region with a population of about 900,000 – shows that “Italians don’t like betrayals,” said an elated Salvini.
Premier Giuseppe Conte downplayed the results, saying it won’t affect his government’s viability.
Much of the Salvini coalition’s campaign in Umbria contained the messages loaded with anti-immigrant, anti-gay rhetoric and religious symbolism. However, a sticking point for many voters was that they promised to cut taxes and revive Umbria’s economy, which has been sluggish since the financial crisis of 2007.
Alessandro Foresi, a bar owner, told the Guardian: “It’s an epochal change, but it’s also a change that people wanted. They believed in what the rightwing alliance had to say. And if you look at the national government, they can’t seem to progress.”
With these results, Salvini has essentially bounced back after his League party was ejected from office in August, when the 5-Stars and the Democrats ganged up on him, shutting him out of power.
The Umbria outcome gives Salvini fresh momentum, as he plots his comeback nationally.
The League snared 36.9 percent of the vote, a huge jump compared with the 14 percent won in the previous Umbria election, while the Democrats tumbled to 22.3 percent, compared with 35.7 in the last election.
Eclipsing former Premier Silvio Berlusconi’s center-right Forza Italia party as the second-biggest party on the right was Brothers of Italy, which has neo-fascist roots
The big losers were 5-Star, taking only 7.4 percent. The Movement’s embattled leader, Luigi Di Maio, blamed the defeat on teaming up regionally in Umbria with the Democrats. “This is an experiment that didn’t work,” he told Sky TG24 TV.
The governor of neighboring Tuscany, Enrico Rossi, warned his fellow Democrats against linking their fate on future campaign trails with the populists. In January, another long-time regional fortress of the left, Emilia Romagna, poses the next big electoral test.
“This last-minute alliance between the 5-Star Movement and the PD (Democratic Party) doesn’t work, not even to keep the spread of Salvini at bay,” Rossi said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.