Centre-left takes control of key Italian cities in blow to Five Star

Democratic Party victories in Rome and Turin signal a revival of fortune

Rome’s newly elected mayor, Roberto Gualtieri, centre-left candidate of the Democratic Party,  greets supporters as he celebrates his victory in Rome. Photograph: Andreas Solaro/AFP via Getty

Rome’s newly elected mayor, Roberto Gualtieri, centre-left candidate of the Democratic Party, greets supporters as he celebrates his victory in Rome. Photograph: Andreas Solaro/AFP via Getty

 

Italy’s Democratic Party has taken control of the cities of Rome and Turin in a revival of the fortunes of the country’s centre-left and a blow to both the populist right and the struggling Five Star Movement.

After the final votes were counted in elections held this month in multiple Italian cities, former economy minister Roberto Gualtieri won the contest to become mayor of Rome, seizing the capital from Five Star, which also lost Turin to the Democratic Party.

Five Star’s losses are a symbolic blow for the one-time radical group, which stunned Italy’s political establishment by winning the cities in 2016. Five Star later became Italy’s largest party on a campaign to root out corruption and improve public services.

The local polls, which were delayed from the summer due to the pandemic, mark the first indication of voter sentiment following prime minister Mario Draghi’s unexpected entrance into national politics last year.

The Democratic Party, Five Star and Matteo Salvini’s League are part of a national unity coalition backing the former European Central Bank president, who has embarked on a multiyear reform and investment plan intended to relaunch Italy’s economy following the pandemic.

Control

The centre-left also took control or kept hold of Milan, Naples and Bologna this month, leaving the Italian right with only a victory in the north eastern city of Trieste in spite of previously having had hopes to win multiple cities.

The success of the Democratic Party, now under the leadership of former prime minister Enrico Letta, comes as Matteo Salvini’s League has suffered from a loss of momentum within Draghi’s unity government.

Three years ago, after the League and Five Star took first and second place in national elections, the pair formed a coalition government that repeatedly clashed with Brussels over spending limits.

But the 2018 general election, in which it won almost a third of the total vote, marked a high point for the Five Star Movement. Likewise the League, which won more than 30 per cent of the national vote in 2019’s European elections, has since been narrowly overtaken by Giorgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy as the country’s most popular party.

Polls

The right’s poor results in the local elections are not currently reflected in national voting intentions, with recent polls showing that the Brothers of Italy and League remained the country’s largest two parties and would be expected to form a coalition government.

The defeated centre-right candidate for Rome, Enrico Michetti, had won the largest share of the vote in the first round but suffered from a string of scandals and gaffs in the run-up to the run off against Mr Gualtieri.

This included an article written by Mr Michetti last year that came to light where he claimed victims of other genocides did not get as much attention as Jewish holocaust victims because they “did not own banks”. Although he apologised for the remarks, he caused further controversy by defending the fascist-associated “Roman salute” arm gesture. – Financial Times