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Italy’s Salvini fails to make expected gains in regional elections

“This is a historic result. We can go back to having a normal parliament, with fewer privileges and 345 fewer seats,” said Foreign Minister and former 5-Star leader Luigi Di Maio.

Proponents of the reform argued that it would trim the bloated bureaucracy, save money and streamline the framing of laws. Opponents said the savings would be modest as a proportion of the national budget and that the reform would reduce representation, with 60 million people served by fewer parliamentarians.

The referendum was added to elections held in seven of Italy’s 20 regions on Sunday and Monday.

Right-wing opposition leader Matteo Salvini casts his ballot in a polling station in Milan, Italy.

Right-wing opposition leader Matteo Salvini casts his ballot in a polling station in Milan, Italy.Credit:AP

Right-wing opposition leader Matteo Salvini failed to make the breakthroughs he had hoped for, early results showed, in a boost to the fragile coalition government.

As the count proceeded, PD looked sure to hold on to three regions it already rules, while the right made just one gain and stayed in charge of two other regions.

Earlier this month, League leader Salvini had said he was aiming for a clean sweep.

Italian sovereign debt spreads narrowed on the early vote count, with investors hoping the results of the ballot would bolster stability at a time when the government is battling the economic slump triggered by the coronavirus.

Culture Minister and prominent PD official Dario Franceschini said the result bolstered the party and its leader Nicola Zingaretti. “Now that he and the PD are stronger, the government can press ahead,” he said in a tweet.

There are growing signs Salvini is losing some of his appeal. The League remains the country’s most popular party but has declined steadily in opinion polls over the last year, along with Salvini’s personal approval ratings.

Volunteers stamp ballots at a polling station in Rome.

Volunteers stamp ballots at a polling station in Rome.Credit:AP

Most attention was fixed on the picturesque region of Tuscany, a traditional left-wing bastion where Salvini campaigned tirelessly, as he had in January when he tried and failed to win another leftist stronghold — Emilia-Romagna.

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A partial vote count gave the PD candidate a comfortable lead of 6.4 points over his League challenger.

Until the Emilia-Romagna setback, Salvini had led his conservative allies to eight straight regional victories since the last national ballot in March 2018.

In the regional ballot, the right easily kept control of the northern regions of Veneto and Liguria, while the PD retained Campania in the south.

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte gestures as he arrives at a polling station, in Rome, on Sunday.

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte gestures as he arrives at a polling station, in Rome, on Sunday.Credit:LaPresse/AP

The right took Marche from the PD, but the centre-left incumbent looked certain to win Puglia, the heel of Italy, defying recent polls that suggested he would lose.

In another potentially worrying sign for Salvini, the League’s incumbent president of Veneto, Luca Zaia, seen as a possible future challenger to his party chief, won with a crushing 75 per cent of the vote.

Zaia’s own personal list of candidates got around 41 per cent, while the League’s official party list took just 16 per cent.

The seventh regional vote was in the tiny, French-speaking Valle D’Aosta. It has its own party system and a League list was ahead in the partial vote count.

The Telegraph, London; Reuters

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