Regional Elections in Italy

Calabria and Emilia-Romagna just renewed their regional governments, following the elections held last weekend. The results confirmed Emilia as a left-wing political stronghold. In addition, however, Calabria saw the rising of Berlusconi’s party “Forza Italia,” the new entry of Lega in the region, and the dismantling of the M5S. Emilia’s elections were also characterized by the appearance of the Sardines movement, a group that is still somewhat undefined. 

There has been much anticipation of the electoral results of the two regions, which function as indicators of the political trend in Italy five months after the establishment of the second Conte cabinet. During 2020, regional elections will be held in several regions[1], and they should shape the pattern of the recently formed government, currently without much political personality. 

We’ll analyze here the situation of Calabria and Emilia, the political methods used by the Sardines and Salvini, and then consider the chances that PD[2] will dissolve. And finally, we’ll look at the debacle of the anti-establishment M5S, which just saw the resignation of Di Maio as leader of the party.


Historically speaking, Calabria is not bound to a particular political tradition at the regional level. Calabria has been characterized by a political rollercoaster that saw both the left and right wings in charge of the regional government. Nevertheless, at the regional and local level, Calabria is characterized by a high rate of receivership and very few mandates reach the end of the term. Therefore, Calabria is still seeking political stability, reachable through a cycle of multiple mandates of the same political faction. 

With this as a backdrop, the region welcomed Jole Santelli, Forza Italia’s candidate who is backed by the right-wing coalition[3], crushing the competition of Filippo Callipo[4] and Francesco Aiello[5], and receiving an outstanding 55.40% of the popular vote. Santelli’s result also set a new precedent, as she is the first-ever female regional governor to be elected in the south of Italy. The victory of the right-wing coalition instantly motivated Berlusconi to call for new elections, and to establish a government chosen by the people, noting that the political trend in Italy is changing — and this is quite true. Berlusconi’s declaration is justified by the political collapse of the M5S. The anti-establishment movement has received only 7% of the vote,  excluding it from the regional government. A growing feeling of distrust toward the M5S is being felt in the south of Italy, the same area that led the party to an outstanding result in the 2018 general elections. Motivations for such detachment can be found in M5S’s coalition with Lega[6], and their inability to follow through on the promises of their agenda. As for their agenda, huge discontent resulted from the failure of both their reform on retirement and the citizenship income. It is interesting to note that in Calabria, not all of the income applicants voted for the M5S during this election[7], signaling a distrust in the functioning of the movement. Reasonable logic if we consider that income flows began with delay and the economic amount was way lower than what was promised during the campaigns.

Despite the victory of the right-wing coalition, the faction is far from being in synergy at the national level. The failure of Lega’s mandate, with Salvini at the helm, motivated other right-wing parties, such as Fratelli D’Italia, to grab their chance at heading the coalition at the national level. Lega is still the first[8] party of the coalition, but this condition might change with the 2020 round of regional elections.


Compared to Calabria, the scenario in Emilia is way different. First, the political background of Emilia has historically been characterized by continuous left-wing supremacy across the region. That has recently been shaken by Lega’s political incursion in the region, helped by the scandal of Bibbiano (in which the left-wing city administration had involvement). Since that event, the pressure of the right coalition grew constantly, leading to controversial right wing strategies just ahead of the elections. Despite that, the left-wing coalition led by Stefano Bonaccini won, at the expense of Lucia Borgonzoni, the right-wing candidate strongly preferred by Salvini. Still, the right-wing managed to shake the region, making the results way more unpredictable with respect to the past.

A notable example of boorishness was presented by the right-wing campaign when, in trying to leverage the tragedy of Bibbiano, they began to manipulate children for political advantage. During the annual meeting of Lega in Pontida, Salvini took onto the stage Greta, a kid from Bibbiano. As if the instrumentalization of children was not sufficient, it was later discovered that Greta does not come from Bibbiano, and that the child was invited without informing the parents of the plan. Those events exacerbated the rejection of Lega in Emilia. Out of those feelings, a new reality emerged in Italy — the Sardines.

A second example of coarse behavior was reached more recently during Salvini’s campaign in Bologna, when he decided to take initiative and almost caused a diplomatic crisis between Italy and Tunisia. Intentionally recorded, the former minister asked a Tunisian family, through the intercom, if they were drug dealers (following the suggestion of a neighbor). But there was no evidence of drug dealing. In fact, the son of the accused family was innocent, in addition to being a brilliant football player who had already been recruited by the Italian national team. Whether done because of the social class or the ethnicity of the accused family, such behavior by Salvini was frightening and led many to feel that they might not be safe anymore in Italy.

Nevertheless, while the left wing is not without fault, one cannot equate the two sides. The left wing did not respect the electoral silence during the election weekend, but neither did the right wing — and so the two kept accusing the other of having infringed the silence first. To be fair, the left benefitted from the lobbying provided by the Sardines.  Given their “apolitical nature,” the movement was not bound to the electoral silence, and they kept stirring the political conscience of the region.

A tricky loophole, perhaps, that leads us to one question: did the PD win the elections, or did the Sardines win?

Cyclicity of a Movement

The Sardines entered into the Italian political arena without taking a political stance. According to the four founders, the movement’s goal is to enlighten once again the Italian political conscience, and free it from racism and populism. The Sardines have been a factor in the growth of electoral participation, resulting in 67,67% of the population participating, compared to 37,76% in the last elections.

The left wing is indebted to the movement, which contributed the vivacity and temper that the left is currently missing, as shown by the gratitude of Zingaretti. Right after the electoral results, the founders of the movement decided to go silent, in keeping with their apolitical stance. Santori, one of the founders, declared in a long Facebook post that curtains were falling on the movement, which would still continue to work in the background. Notably, Santori remarked in the message that “if we wanted a political career, we would have done it by now.” This remark does not leave much space for a political future for the movement, which could easily have taken the political path at the high point of their popularity, as did the M5S.

Currently the M5S is experiencing a downfall — within the party, but also in terms of public opinion. At the national, regional and local level, the party gained relevance with the introduction of the citizenship income, and also because of their anti-establishment spirit. But then they disappeared after their agreement to form a coalition government with the Lega party. Only the following elections will tell if the M5S is experiencing a temporary political stall and need just a bit of internal reorganization, or if the movement is ending its life cycle — like a meteor. If it’s the former, the new leadership of Crimi may benefit the movement and refresh its political agenda.

 …and of a political party

The PD party is also in need of internal reconstruction, although the future of the entire party is in doubt right now. Right before the elections, Zingaretti[9] declared that after the results in Emilia, he would choose to dissolve the party. As of the moment, however, the secretary has not revisited that topic.

This uncertainty is the basic blueprint of the political situation in Italy. It’s being experienced also in the right-wing parties, as new discussions will open between Meloni and Salvini for the candidature in the regional government elections of 2020.

The presentiment that Italy is without a defined political program and agenda seems also to be confirmed by the deterioration of international cooperation —  as recently shown by the absence of a call to Italy from Pompeo to explain the assassination of Soleimani. A weird omission for a country that is among the six founding members of the European Union.

[1] Campania, Liguria, Marche, Puglia, Toscana, Veneto

[2] Partito Democratico

[3] Comprising: Casa delle Libertà, Fratelli d’Italia, Forza Italia, Lega, Unione di Centro.

[4] Candidate of the left-wing coalition formed by PD, Democratici Progressisti and Io Resto in Calabria con Pippo Callipo Presidente

[5] M5S’ Candidate

[6] Historically, Lega professed federalism and separation from the Southern regions, deemed to be a burden for the rest of the nation

[7] MS5 voters were 48.221, while applicants were 69.837 (Source Il Sole 24 Ore)

[8] From an electoral point of view

[9] Partito Democratico’s National Secretary

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