Thirteen million voters, or roughly 30% of the total electorate, were called to the ballot boxes on Sunday and Monday in two of the most economically developed regions of Italy. And the winner was… the abstentionist party, as six out of ten voters did not bother to vote. Turnout has nearly been cut in half since the last regional elections in 2018. In a poll last August, one in three Italians said there was no point in voting because it was a waste of time. Commentators joked that the recent Italian song contest in San Remo got the voters more involved and excited.
Some other factors increased the abstention rate: everyone was already discounting a victory for the hard right government coalition after their success in the September general election; the opposition is in disarray with the PD (Democratic Party) in completely different coalitions in the two regions; and finally, we saw relatively unknown or uninspiring candidates.
Those who actually voted gave Meloni another victory. Her Fratelli d’Italia (Brothers of Italy) party was confirmed as the single largest party in both regions. It confirms the continued forward march of her post-fascist party: in Lazio, it scored 33.6% (up from 31.4 in the general election and 8.7 in the 2018 regional elections), and in Lombardy, reflecting the small recovery of the Lega, her party got 25.2% (3.6% in 2018 and 27.6% at the general election).
Representation in the regional administrations provides plenty of opportunities to reinforce the local implantation of a party that still retains some links with a fascist past. A popular singer, Fedez, used the platform of the San Remo song festival to show a picture of a Fratelli d’Italia vice minister dressed in a Nazi uniform. Like Prince Harry, Fratelli was younger, and it was at some sort of party. Later in the festival, Fedez exchanged a full-on kiss with another male singer. Other showbiz stars also publicly defended progressive values and the constitution. The hard right government will surely organise to clean up the public TV channel as soon as it can. However, it does show that public opinion and attitudes in Italy are not as reactionary as Meloni’s government.
Already, regional and local leaders of Meloni’s party have been leading an offensive against abortion rights and attacking progressive values generally. Migrants and the LBGTQ+ community are the favourite targets. The regions have a lot of say over the health service, and this can affect abortion rights or support for trans people.
Paradoxically, it was to Meloni’s advantage that, particularly in Lombardy, her party did not humiliate her coalition partners. If she had significantly increased her dominance in the coalition, the other parties might have promoted their distinctive policies and disrupted the alliance in order to regain support from right-wing voters. Salvini, the Lega (League) leader who had lost a lot of voters to Meloni, in his post-election comments made a big deal of the government playing a team game.
The Lega recovered in its stronghold of Lombardy, getting 16.8% and 8.4% in Lazio. This was a useful result given that even a year or so ago, it was the lead party of the right-wing coalition. Despite the atrocious record of Fontana, the Lega governor, during the COVID epidemic and the unnecessarily high death tolls in places like Bergamo, he was re-elected on the first round with more than 50% of the vote. The results will give Salvini some breathing space from the insidious rumblings of dissatisfaction from people like the Venetian leader, Zaia.
Berlusconi’s Forza Italia (Go Italy) party is bumping along at just below 8%, going slightly forward in Lazio and back a bit in Lombardy. He has stirred up quite a fuss with his pro-Putin commentary on Ukraine, strongly criticising Zelensky and advising him to accept peace terms advantageous to Putin. This actually suits Meloni who can present herself as the most consistent pro-NATO, pro-Western leader of the right-wing coalition. Meloni may count on sympathetic support from other Western leaders thanks to images of Salvini wearing a Putin T-shirt and those reported prior financial gifts from Moscow.
If you add up the votes of all the so-called opposition parties, going from the left satellites of the PD (Sinistra Italia/Verdi, the Italian Left/Greens) to the neo-liberal centrists of the Third Pole (Renzi/Calenda), then they actually have a small majority over the hard right coalition. However, there is no united opposition able to take on a disciplined hard right coalition. Ironically, all these opposition parties supported the neo-liberal “technocrat” Draghi in the previous national unity government whereas Fratelli d’Italia, the main party of the new united, rightwing government remained resolutely opposed to Draghi.
The way the PD ran in these elections shows that it can’t even offer a weak social democratic alternative to the government. In Lombardy, it blocked with Conte’s M5S (Five Star Movement), whereas in Lazio, it had a coalition with the Third Pole neo-liberals without the M5S. Enrico Letta, the outgoing PD leader, waxed lyrical about his party retaining the second-most-voted political party slot—its vote went up by a point or so to 20% in both regions. He exhorted the M5S and the Third Pole to recognise that any opposition has to be built around the PD and not against it. However, even Bonnacini, the moderate favourite to take over as PD leader, declared the results negative and repeated his call to clean out the entire PD leadership. His closest rival, Schlein, who promotes herself as a feminist and a “left” ecological alternative, made the same argument.
The M5S hasn’t been able to keep its gains from the general election in September, and it doesn’t look like it will be willing to work with the PD in any way. On the other hand, Calenda, the leader of the Third Pole, castigated the voters for their wrong choices in not backing his competent managers and called for the building of a true neo-liberal centre party.
Forces to the left of the PD, such as the Unione Populare (People’s Union) or the Rifondazione Communista (Communist Refoundation), got slightly more votes than in September but still failed to get past 2%. In Lazio they even managed to run two separate candidates…
Overall, the regional election results confirm our analysis of Meloni’s first hundred days. Today, after the loss of Lazio, the right wing controls fifteen out of the twenty regions. The hard right is in ascendancy, and there is very little political opposition to them. The threats of further attacks on workers’ living standards and democratic rights are very high. Building opposition through the trade unions and social movements is the only way forward. Struggles on the streets, in workplaces, and in communities are necessary to even defend our gains.
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