Italy's far-right Salvini fails to gain foothold in key regional election

image copyrightReuters
image captionMatteo Salvini had hoped to dislodge the centre-left in Emilia-Romagna and force snap elections

Italy's far-right leader Matteo Salvini has suffered a setback after his League Party failed to unseat the left in a key election in the country's north.

The centre-left Democratic Party's (PD) Stefano Bonaccini won 51.4% of the vote in Emilia-Romagna, while the League candidate Lucia Borgonzoni took 43.6%.

The election had been seen as a test of Italy's national coalition government.

Mr Salvini campaigned extensively in Emilia-Romagna, hoping to depose the left and force snap elections.

The wealthy northern region has been a stronghold of Italy's centre-left since the Second World War.

image copyrightEPA
image captionThe PD's Stefano Bonaccini: "Arrogance never pays"

"Emilia-Romagna has sent a signal," PD leader Nicola Zingaretti tweeted. "Salvini knows how to talk about problems, but he doesn't know how to sort them out and the people have responded."

Mr Zingaretti said the result made his party stronger, adding that Mr Salvini had failed in his aim to "shove the government out".

Italy has a coalition government consisting of members of the PD and the populist Five Star Movement.

The former staunch rivals agreed to join forces and form a government last August after Mr Salvini pulled his party out of office.

The move was an attempt by Mr Salvini, who was leading in opinion polls at the time, to force the government to collapse and win outright power.

Why Salvini is still a threat to the left

By Mark Lowen, BBC Italy Correspondent

Twice in six months, Matteo Salvini has hoped to topple the government from the sidelines. Twice he has failed.

First, he quit the coalition last summer, assuming it would spark fresh elections. Then, he threw everything at winning Emilia-Romagna, the bastion of the left. Both bids for power have foundered.

Optimistic opponents believe this shows Mr Salvini's fire burning itself out and that the current government will hold. Others, perhaps realists, say the fact that the left needed mass mobilisation of its voters, helped by a huge street movement - the Sardines - to win in its stronghold against a weak right-wing candidate, shows the threat that Mr Salvini poses and how close he is to gaining power.

The fulcrum of Italian politics is clearly moving to the right. It won in Calabria, Umbria and posed a serious challenge in Emilia-Romagna. The left's coalition partner, Five Star, is imploding, endangering the government's longevity.

Matteo Salvini hoped that it would be Emilia first and Italy next. He miscalculated. But he'll try again.

"I don't feel defeated," Mr Salvini said as results began to show a clear lead for the PD's Mr Bonaccini on Sunday evening, adding: "I'll work twice as hard."

Turnout for Sunday's ballot was about 67% of some three-and-a-half million registered voters, compared with 37% in a previous vote in 2014.

It comes as Italy has seen the rapid rise in recent weeks of a group known as the Sardines - an anti-nationalist movement started by four flatmates in the Italian city of Bologna that now demonstrates across the country.

media captionAnti-nationalist Sardines demonstrate in Florence

Mr Bonaccini, who retains his position as governor of Emilia-Romagna following the result, praised the Sardines during his victory speech.

He said the movement had made a difference by taking to the streets in their tens of thousands and asking for "a more polite and peaceful politics".

Mr Salvini and his centre-right allies Forza Italia - led by former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi - enjoyed more success in a separate election in Italy's southern region of Calabria.

The candidate for Forza Italia, Jole Santelli, won more than 55% of the vote.

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media captionHow Italy's far right is hoping to cause a political earthquake

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