Italian Voters Deal Blow to Populist Leader Matteo Salvini in Regional Election

(ROME) — Italian voters have thwarted right-wing opposition leader Matteo Salvini’s hopes of turning an election in a key northern region into a springboard for regaining national power.

Nearly complete results Monday of Sunday’s election for the governorship of the prosperous Emilia-Romagna region had his League party candidate winning only 43.7 % support to the 51.4% garnered by the incumbent governor from the center-left Democrats.

The Democrats are in Italy’s national coalition government led by Premier Giuseppe Conte.

But the big loser in that regional vote was the populist 5-Star Movement, which is Conte’s main coalition partner. The 5-Stars, who are the largest party in Italy’s national Parliament, tanked at some 3.5% of the vote. Their poor showing, the latest slump in fortunes since their triumph in the 2018 national election, could likely worsen infighting in the 5-Stars and weaken their clout in Conte’s government.

In southern Calabria, the only other Italian region voting Sunday, a center-right candidate triumphed on a ticket that was backed by Salvini’s anti-migrant League party, the far-right Brothers of Italy party and the conservatives of former Premier Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party.

Salvini on Monday sought to put a positive spin on his candidate’s defeat in Emilia-Romagna, saying he did remarkably well in a region that for decades has been a stronghold of the left. Salvini himself had campaigned incessantly there, practically eclipsing his candidate’s visibility.

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