September 21, 2020


ITALY: Regional elections – what to watch for

BY Wolfango Piccoli

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Polls closed in Italy late on Sunday (20 September) in the first of two days of voting on a nationwide constitutional referendum and local elections. Voting continues today, with polling stations closing at 3pm local time. Seven of the nation’s 20 regions will choose new legislatures and governors, in addition to mayoral elections across the country and a nationwide referendum on reducing the size of the country’s parliament. Exit polls are due when polling stations close, with the referendum and regional results expected in the afternoon and evening.

In the referendum, the turnout was at 39.4% when the ballot stations closed last night. No minimum turnout is needed for the vote to be valid, amid expectations that the reform will be approved. In this case, the Chamber of Deputies would go from 630 lawmakers to 400, and the Senate from 315 to 200. The reform is the brainchild of the co-governing Five Star Movement (M5S), but while its center-left coalition Democratic Party (PD) partner and parties on the right are theoretically in favor, their support has been lukewarm at best.

The regional battle is for the governance of Campania, Liguria, Marche, Puglia, Tuscany, and Veneto, and Valle d’Aosta (a standalone case given its tiny size and traditional dominance by regional parties). The available turnout data in the regional elections does not provide any meaningful insight on the possible outcome of the voting, including for the key races in Tuscany and Puglia.

Even though the local ballot is unlikely to trigger a political crisis in Rome, a solid performance by the center-right opposition could weaken and unsettle the fractious coalition headed by Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte.

What to look out for when the results come through

  • The winning alliance in Puglia and Tuscany will determine whether the center-right opposition will do well (by winning in three regions: Liguria, Veneto, and Marche) or secure an impressive 5-1 landslide by leaving only Campania to the center-left.
  • The outcome of the race in Tuscany will largely shape the post-vote narratives, especially if the center-right prevails. Tuscany is historically known as a center-left heartland and is regarded, together with Emilia Romagna, as the “spiritual house” of the PD. A defeat in Tuscany would trigger turmoil within the PD, leading the party to become more assertive in its governing arrangement with the M5S. The party leader Nicola Zingaretti could also be forced to resign; his early exit could further complicate the already difficult ruling arrangement with the M5S.
  • The M5S has done very poorly in every regional ballot since the 2018 general elections. It is not expected to do much better this round, but a very poor performance (single-digit territory) in the southern regions of Campania and Puglia (two strongholds of the M5S) would further unsettle the leaderless party. The M5S will seek to save face by bragging about the approval of the (largely pointless) constitutional reform.
  • The outcome of the vote will shed light on the balance of power within the center-right, given the Lega’s apparent decline in popularity and the ascent of Georgia Meloni’s Fratelli d’Italia. A victory in Tuscany would put Matteo Salvini back in the spotlight after a difficult summer.

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