Guest Post: Election Preview: Italy (Regional and Local) 2015

I have been very fortunate to receive a guest post from Giovanni Rettore previewing the Italian regional elections which will be held on May 31, 2015.

This weekend seven of the twenty Italian regions, including Campania, Veneto, Apulia and Tuscany, will vote to renew their regional council and their governors. Additionally thousands of cities, most notably Venice, will renew their city councils and their mayors.

The outcome of the elections will likely affect the internal debate on a number of hot button issues including the economic and immigration crisis, the education reform and the electoral reform. A good performance by eurosceptic movements like the Northern League and the Five Star Movement, who openly supports Italy withdrawing from the European Monetary Union, might also have repercussion on international politics, especially in light of recent parliamentary elections in the UK, presidential elections in Poland and local elections in Spain that saw victories for eurosceptic parties and candidates.

Regionalisation and the devolution process in Italy has been a hot topic since the end of World War II and the establishment of the new constitution. The constitution of 1948 provided for the creation of twenty regions, however the constitution remained ineffective for more than twenty years. Only five of the twenty regions were provided power and an elected regional council: Sicily; Sardinia; Friuli Venezia Giulia; Trentino Alto Adige and Aosta Valley. Those five regions, still today, enjoys higher fiscal and political autonomy, that often led to polemics by other regions who disagree with the special status that these five regions enjoy.  The other fifteen regions, called “ordinary regions” in Italian law, were finally given an autonomous parliament only in 1970, twenty two years after the approval of the constitution, when the first regional elections were held.

During the so-called “First Republic” the regional elections were held under a proportional representation system with no threshold, thus leading to frequent crisis of fragile coalition governments. In 1995, for the first time, Italians started to directly elect their governors. A new reform, approved in 2001 by citizens, gave ordinary regions more autonomy and power, especially in the sector of health care. However, due to increasing scandals in the health care and the high numbers of trials in front of the Constitutional Courts on the shared competences between state and regions have led to increasing criticism of the new autonomy given to regional executives.

Electoral Law

As written above, the first five regional elections were held under a proportional representation system without a threshold. The governor was not directly elected by citizens, instead his elections came as a result of pact between parties. Due to the electoral law, rarely a party was able to enjoy a majority of seats and often had to rely on fragile coalition governments. Often governors were sacked by their own allies during their terms and replaced by others.

In 1995 the electorate was eventually allowed to directly elect their governors, however during the 1995-2000 regional legislatures many regional governments still suffered from instability and several elected governors were forced to resign due to clash in the coalitions and replaced by parliamentary elected governors. Since 2000 however the law foresees that if a governor resigns or loses a motion of no confidence, this will automatically trigger an early election. Due to this mechanism the last years saw a huge number of regions forced to held early elections. Several governors have been forced to resign as results of scandals or no confidence motions thus leading regional elections to become more and more sparse.

Currently in almost all regions the governor is elected under an electoral system that gives the party, or the coalition of parties, that supports the winning governor a majority of seats in the regional parliament. While the other parties split the remaining seats. Something that can be described as a “winner-takes all” system. Almost all regions, with the notable exception of Tuscany, don’t have a runoff. So, a plurality of valid votes is enough for the elected governor to rely on a majority in the regional parliament. Threshold for parties to enter in the regional council varies between regions, as do laws on term limits with some regions allowing a governor running for only two terms, and other not having term limits laws.

A citizen, to vote for a governor have different options

1. Vote only for governor only, putting a cross only on the name of the governor, thus the vote will be valid only for the gubernatorial elections and have no effect on council composition

2. Vote for one of the parties that supports a gubernatorial nominee, in this case the vote will be valid for both the party and the gubernatorial candidate supported by the party

3. Vote for one party for regional council, but also opted for voting for a gubernatorial candidate not supported by the party voted. In this case, called disjointed vote, the vote is valid for both the party and for the gubernatorial candidate even if the party supports a different gubernatorial candidate

National background

Regional elections have often been seen as a very political test for national government, so usually regional debates have been obscured and influenced by national climate. Though in recent years regional results have become increasingly influenced by local issues and by the personality of the regional candidates, there’s no doubt that the outcome of the election will likely affect, and be affected, by the national climate as often happened in the past.

Last year’s European elections have been sometimes described as landmark and key to opening a realignment in national politics. The Democratic Party, under the leadership of prime minister Matteo Renzi challenged the European climate of protests against establishment parties, and won an historic 40.8% of votes doubling his nearest competitor, the catch-all populist Five Star Movement who won a somewhat disappointing 21.2%. This, according to experts and commentators signed something of a realignment in national politics, with the Democratic Party seen as something like a dominant party like the Christian Democracy used to be during the Postwar years, ‘til the 90’s. Also European elections probably marked the definite beginning of the end for Silvio Berlusconi, with his party Forza Italia finishing distant third with only 16.6% of votes. After 20 years characterized by his rises and falls, the Italian electorate seems to be completely tired of Berlusconi and decided to put him in the past, with Matteo Renzi overtaking him as the leading figure of Italian politics.

The months following the EP election have been characterized by the unexpected rise in polls of Matteo Salvini. The new leader of the right-wing populist Northern League has been able to resuscitate his party. After a fairly good showing in European Elections, Salvini is now seen as the de facto leader of Italian centre-right. Currently the League is polling around 16% in national polls, well above Berlusconi’s Forza Italia which polls now show with just around 10% of voting intentions.

National polls also consistently put Salvini in second place as the most popular political leader in the country, just behind Renzi and well above both Grillo and Berlusconi. Salvini, during his tenure as leader of the League have shifted party platform towards an even more open euroscepticism, putting thewithdrawal from the Euro in the party platform, and increasingly criticism towards refugees policy and the government handling on the illegal immigration crisis. Salvini has personally tied himself with economy teacher Claudio Borghi Aquilini, who is seen as the economy minister of the League, and has been one of the main responsible for the League eurosceptic shift.

The certification of Salvini rise came last fall in Emilia Romagna. Emilia Romagna, an historical left-wing stronghold, had to held early election due to the conviction of incumbent governor centre-left governor Vasco Errani, that triggered an early election. Due to the weakness of Forza Italy, Salvini was able to impose Alan Fabbri as the centre-right candidate. Although the left won Emilia Romagna as usual, the result created some discussion in national public. The League won almost 20% of votes, an historical peak for the regional conservative party in a usual left wing stronghold. The left overall conquered less than 50% of popular votes. Though that meant a comfortable victory, this result was seen as a disappointment given that left wing parties overall lost something like 9 points compared to June European Elections, while the League jumped from 5% in June to almost 20% and the right coalition rose from 19 to 28%. Also a worrying signal was the extremely low turnout, only 39% showed to the polls in the region that historically led turnout statistics.

The Northern League, in its almost thirty years in parliament, has always been a vocal critic of multiculturalism, Islam’s role in the society, immigration from non western countries and Roma’s refusal to integrate, but Salvini made a shift to the right that probably not even his predecessor Bossi had ever imagined. Salvini made interior minister Angelino Alfano, ironically a former allied of the League, his main target accusing him of ineptitude and incompetence in the handling of the illegal immigration crisis that Italy is facing.

Salvini rethoric in opposing “Mare Nostrum” operation that led illegal immigrants from the Mediterranean Sea was helped by a scandal that erupted in Rome. Telephone calls tapped by police leaked to the press and showed some responsible of NGOs laughing and wishing for disasters, catastrophes and more refugees, describing the illegal immigration as a big business for NGOs.

Another statistics that helped Salvini is that only 30% demanded for refugee protection and just 4% of them obtained the status of refugees and only 25% obtained protection. The government’s policy to pay hotels to host refugees only increases popular distrust of government’s ability to handle the illegal immigration crisis. Europe’s answers to Italy’s demands for help in the crisis have been judged as meaningless. Italian rage for the immigration crisis has France as the big target. France is accused to be responsible for the crisis due to their leading role in the downfall of Libyan dictator Qaddafi which threw Libya into a state of permanent civil war. Italy now asks France to take responsibility for it, and take a substantial numbers of immigrants, but the French government has repeatedly refused to help Italy take care of refugees

But Salvini also used the economic crisis as a means to increase his personal consensus. Salvini heavily criticized the EU handling of the crisis, the austerity measures of spending cuts and tax increase that EU organs recommended to the last Italian governments. Austerity measures, that in Italy were enacted with high tax increases, have thrown Italy in its worse economic crisis since the end of World War II. The current economic crisis has been even more severe than the ’29 crisis, that actually didn’t touch Italy as harshly as other Western countries. During the ’29 crisis Italy lost “only” 5% of its GDP, exited from recession in the second half of 1931, and returned to the pre-crisis level in 1935, while in 2014, six years after the beginning of the 2008 recession, Italy still saw a negative GDP growth for the third year in a row and has lost almost 10% of its GDP. Unemployment rate have passed from 6% to 13%. Especially after the Monti government’s austerity package the unemployment crisis was exacerbated with unemployment rate rising from around 8% to around 12% by the time Monti left Palazzo Chigi. Unemployment continued to rise during the Letta and Renzi governments. Current previsions from the IMF signalled that Italy is exiting from recession, although Italy GDP growth will still be anemic in 2015 and much lower than both EU and Eurozone average.

Salvini, as written above, openly supports Italy leaving the Euro and returning to Lira. Salvini has been highly influenced by a group of economists that, in last five years heavily campaigned for Italy to leave the common currency. The most well-known of this group of economists is Claudio Borghi Aquilini, now seen as the Economy Minister of the League, who is currently running for Tuscany governor. This move however met some criticism within the party. Most notably the withdrawal from the Euro was one of the main reasons that led to the expulsion from the League of Verona’s mayor Flavio Tosi, who unlike Salvini supports Italy staying within the European Monetary Union.

Salvini, probably sensing that Berlusconi days are likely over, has led the transformation of the League into a national party. Salvini started to campaign heavily in Southern and Central Italy. Though sometimes met by popular uprising, Salvini descent to south was saluted with good polling results. Polls consistently show the League running ahead of Forza Italia not only in its historical northern strongholds, but also in Central Italian regions, usually refractarian to the League, like Tuscany; Marche and Umbria. Salvini also led the creation of a southern spinoff of the League called “Noi con Salvini” (We with Salvini) that will present a list of candidates in Apulia and will likely be used as a mean to carry the League towards the conquest of the southern conservative electorate, left free by Forza Italia’s national meltdown. Doing so Salvini made something like an “Iron Pact” with the tiny “Brothers of Italy” party. Led by former youth minister Giorgia Meloni, “Brothers of Italy” is a party that coalesced around former National Alliance supporters. After failing by 0.3% the passing of the electoral threshold in June, the Brothers of Italy also profited of Berlusconi’s meltdown and currently polls around 4-5% in national polls. Meloni has, in the last months, closely allied with Salvini in local elections and on national issues, also criticizing government immigration policies and calling for Italy’s withdrawal from Euro.

 

Due to recent election results in UK, Poland and Spain an affirmation of Salvini’s party in Italian regional elections might be another episode in the ongoing EU meltdown saga.

 

Regional races

 

I will now try to do a quick resume of the regional races, giving a synthetic background of the single races. I will start from the most populated of the seven regions to the least populated.

 

Campania

Campania ranks as the third most populated region of Italy, and the most populated among the seven that will renew its governor and regional council this weekend. Campania, home to Naples, the third most populated town of Italy, will likely be one of the closest contests this Sunday. Campania is one of the poorest regions in Italy. Though being the third most populated region it ranks last as GDP per capita, and ranks third among the twenty regions for unemployment rate. Campania’s unemployment rate is currently 22.8%, more than nine points above than the national average. Campania also is frequently cited for its security problems and the high influence of organized crime in local politics.

 

During the so called “First Republic”, Campania was a conservative region. Like in the other southern regions, left-wing parties were usually weaker than national average, while centrist Christian Democracy and the hard right Italian Social Movement usually performed strongly. In the 90’s, during the so called “Second Republic” Campania became a swing region, like most of the other southern regions. Since the direct election of governor have been introduced in 1995 the centre-right have won two times, while centre-left also won twice.

 

Like in most southern regions the collapse of the historical parties have led local elections to become highly unpredictable and dominated by powerful local bosses, mostly former Christian Democrats, who depending on the current mood side with either left or right. Clemente Mastella, former Justice Minister and leader of the tiny centrist UDEUR, used to be the most famous of this southern local bosses that, depending on the national trend, sided with one coalition or the other, usually in exchange for pork and barrel spending for their personal constituencies.

 

In 1995 the centre-right won the election with Antonio Rastrelli, but in 1999 Rastrelli lost a motion of no confidence, mainly due to Mastella changing sides, and the left conquered the region. Elections in 2000 saw the election of then Naples mayor, Antonio Bassolino, who led the centre-left towards victory. The lone bright spot to what was otherwise a nightmarish night for the Italian centre-left. Bassolino easily won re-election in 2005, but his second term was infamously plagued by the well known trash scandal. Naples and its suburbs found themselves covered by trash Bassolino and then Naples mayor, fellow PD member Rosa Russo Iervolino, have largely been considered responsible for the scandal and quickly became pariah even in their own party. In consequence of the trash scandal the centre-right coalition easily won 2010 elections. In 2010 elections the Democratic Party tried to walk away from Bassolino’s toxic legacy and nominated Salerno mayor Vincenzo De Luca, a long time vocal critic of Bassolino within the Democratic Party. De Luca as usually been cold the “Red Sheriff” due to its commitment for law and order. In the most heated days of the trash scandal De Luca was quoted saying that his town, Salerno, was “as clean as Switzerland”. However it was not enough and centre right candidate Stefano Caldoro, a little known former junior minister of Berlusconi cabinet, won with a double digit margin, taking 54% of popular vote to De Luca’s 43%.

 

Ever since his defeat De Luca has eyed a re-match with Caldoro, hoping that the waning memory of Bassolino might give him a better shot at victory, however a first degree conviction for a spending scandal severely hurt his reputation as a law and order politician.

 

In spite of this, De Luca once again ran and won the centre-left primaries. However a second conviction came in January, and as a result of the second conviction, due to the new anti-corruption law, De Luca has been punished with one year ban from public offices. If De Luca is elected governor he will probably be forced to resign as soon as he enters in office. To resolve the issue there have been talks of the Democratic Party studying a reform of the Severino law. Such talks have been met with high criticism both from the right, that accuses the Democratic Party of double standards due to the Democrats use of the same law to expel Berlusconi from the Senate, and the hard left that supports the Severino law

 

This has led the left-wing “Left Ecology and Freedom” to broke with the Democratic Party and run its own candidate MEP Salvatore Vozza. Another candidate that protested De Luca candidacy.

 

De Luca however has been able to win the endorsed by the Union of the Center and the old political boss of the late Christian Democracy, Ciriaco De Mita. De Mita’s son was the deputy of incumbent governor Caldoro, but his father quickly broke with the governor and now sides with his main opponent.

 

Caldoro runs for re-election leading a centre-right coalition with Forza Italia, the New Centre Right, a national splinter of Forza Italia’s minister within the Letta government, and the Brothers of Italy.

 

The 5 Star Movement is represented by political activist Valeria Ciarambino

 

Initially pre-election polls showed a lead for De Luca, but after polemics surrounding his conviction, the presence of felons in the lists that endorses him and the endorsement of an old crook like De Mita have eroded his initial lead. Current polls points toward a very uncertain race with Caldoro and De Luca running neck and neck both polling around 37% of votes. The 5 Star Movement polls distant third with roughly 20% of voting intentions while the left wing candidates together amount for around 6% of voting intentions. There’s a chance that left-wing dissident and 5 Star Movement candidates perform strong enough to lead De Luca towards a defeat.

 

As written above, even if De Luca wins, he might be forced out of office as soon as he is sworn in, due to the Severino law.  This fact might lead undecided people to vote for Caldoro knowing that a De Luca administration might end in a blink of an eye. However De Luca is still considered a very strong candidate and might able to overcome is possible ineligibility, at least on election day.

 

Prediction: Toss-Up

 

Veneto

 

Veneto is the fifth most populated regions of Italy, the second most populated among the seven voting regions and is usually considered one of the richest regions in the country. Veneto ranks third in GDP, fifth in GDP per capita, and is often considered one of the best regions in terms of public services usually ranking high in most public service statistics. Veneto’s unemployment rate is 7.7%, ranking second to last among the twenty regions for unemployment rate. However the enduring recession has put Veneto’s economic system, based mainly on little and medium enterprises, at odds. Several shops and enterprises have been forced to close due to enduring credit crunch and low domestic demand. Though its unemployment rate is much lower than national average, it has almost doubled since the start of recession in 2008. Veneto being one of the richest region in the country, it is usually the main “victim” of fiscal consolidation, meaning that Veneto usually has to pay for much of the tax increase imposed by the austerity measures.

 

Politically Veneto has always been allergic to the left. In the so called “First Republic”, Veneto was probably the biggest stronghold of the Christian Democracy. Often Christian Democracy won a majority of votes and seats all alone in regional elections. Both the Communist Party and other minor centrist and right parties usually performed very weak in Veneto.

 

In the mid 80’s however a nationalistic sentiment started to grow in Veneto that led to the quick rise of the Northern League. The League soon started to challenge the Christian Democrat hegemony in the region, becoming the most serious rival that Christian Democracy had to face in 50 years of political dominance. When the Christian Democracy collapsed in early 90’s it looked like the Northern League will take its place as the region natural governing party, but the birth of Forza Italia, and the rise of Berlusconi, ruined the League hegemonic plan, leading to a twenty years rivalry within the centre-right pole between the League and Forza Italia. However, as we’ll see, it finally seems that the League might get rid of its never loved ally and started to act as the region’s natural governing party.

 

The four elections since 1995 always saw the centre-right pole win with comfortable margins, although, as written above, the internal rivalry between the League and Forza Italia often led to turmoil and heated debates within the centre-right pole. In 1995 elections, where the League ran alone due to their withdraw from the first Berlusconi government, saw the victory of Giancarlo Galan, one of Berlusconi’s closest friend and ally. In 2000, with the League fully re-entered in the centre-right alliance, Galan won re-election with a 17 points margin . Even in 2005, a tremendous election night for the Italian centre-left, Galan won his third term with an 8 points margin.

 

Galan announced he was running for a fourth term, but was stopped by Berlusconi. The League was willing to elect one of his own member as head of the region, and so Galan withdrew from the race and reluctantly endorsed agriculture minister Luca Zaia of the League. Zaia, a very popular minister within the cabinet, won the election with a spectacular 60-29 margin. Zaia also led the League to finally winning a plurality of votes and seats in regional parliament, surpassing the People of Freedom with a 35-24 margin.

 

During his tenure Zaia has often led the charts of the most popular governors, with approval ratings averaging around 60%. Though Zaia has usually been seen as extremely popular, his position on Venetian independence is considered controversial. Zaia has often clashed with national government over the issue of allowing a Scottish-style separatist referendum. Zaia attempted to allow it with a regional law, but quickly the law was challenged by the national government to the Constitutional Court. Though Zaia’s high approval ratings seemed to lead towards an easy victory for him, in June 2014 the surprising victory of the Democratic Party in European elections, who won a plurality of votes in Veneto in a huge upset, led people to think that, maybe for the first time, the left might have a shot in winning one of the center-right’s usually inexpugnable strongholds.

 

The Democratic Party selected young MEP Alessandra Moretti as its flag-bearer in the hard fight to win a region that the left have never came close to conquer even in its best moments. However Moretti soon revealed herself to be an extremely weak candidate, certainly not the kind of candidate that might try to win such a conservative stronghold. Soon after announcing her run for governor, Moretti gave an interview to “Corriere della Sera” that made her the targets of jokes around the Internet. The interview was a Sarah Palin-style disaster in which Mrs Moretti spoke about her beautician, her love for beauty treatments, her ability as a singer and as a chef and her affair with famous TV host Massimo Giletti. Certainly not the kind of topics you wish a gubernatorial candidate talks about. As I said above, the interview quickly became viral and made of Moretti a Sarah Palin-style national joke.

 

Early polls showed Zaia leading the race with a double digit margins, with Moretti unable to recover from the disastrous interview. Moretti tried to exploit a scandal that erupted in June. The “Mose” scandal, a scandal related to a projected dam that might end the phenomenon of “Acqua alta” in Venice. The scandal led to the arrest of several politicians, most notably former governor Galan and Venice mayor Giorgio Orsoni. But Moretti tactic somewhat backfired due to the fact that Orsoni is a former member of the PD and that many local members of the party in the municipality of Venice, a city where the left won the last five municipal elections in a row, where charged with bribery and corruption.

 

However, when everybody thought Zaia was cruising towards his second term, then came what could have possibly been the game changer of the race. As I wrote above, not everyone in the League liked Salvini shift to the right. The most notable critic within the party became Verona’s mayor Flavio Tosi. Tosi, often mentioned as one of Italy’s most popular mayors in polls, openly criticized Salvini stances on immigration as too extreme (a funny criticism from someone like Tosi who has been convicted for using racial slur) and openly said he opposes Italy leaving the Euro. Before Salvini meteoric rise to the leadership of the party in the fall of 2013, Tosi was seen as the most likely new leader of the League, and people even started to mention him as a potential national leader of the centre-right in the wake of Berlusconi expulsion from the Senate. Though, as we know, Salvini stole from him both the role of new party leader and the national spotlight frustrating his ambitions to become the centre-right’s Renzi. In December came the final showdown, with Tosi and Salvini clashing on the composition of the list for regional elections that led to Tosi’s expulsion from the League few weeks later. Tosi then announced his run for governor and was quickly endorsed by the New Centre Right and the Union of the Centre.

 

After Tosi’s schism polls started to show a very tight race, with Moretti looking now as a much more serious threat due to Tosi siphoning votes from Zaia’s block. However both Tosi and Moretti campaign were awful. Moretti continued her palinesque gaffes, while Tosi campaign soon looked as improvised with Zaia quickly widening again his lead on Moretti taking back votes from Tosi. The televised debate between the four main candidates: Zaia; Moretti; Tosi and the 5 star Movement flag-bearer Jacopo Berti, was probably the last nail in the coffin for both Moretti and Tosi. In post-debate polls 36% of viewers proclaimed Zaia as the winner of the debate while 29% stated Moretti as the winner, 23% stated Berti won and only 12% retained Tosi as the winner.

 

Latest polls see Zaia with a solid double digit lead, over Moretti while Tosi might finish distant fourth, also behind Berti who ran a quite good campaign and performed well in the debate.

 

Though Zaia would have been a tough candidate to beat for everyone, probably a different candidate, like per example Vicenza mayor Achille Variati or MP Laura Puppato, might had more shots at making the election competitive due to the split of the center-right between Tosi and Zaia. Moretti revealed herself as a disastrous and ill-advised choice and will likely loose badly. Another month and maybe even Berti could have surpassed her. That’s what happens when you choose a candidate only for his/her pretty face and not for his/her real political skills.

 

An issue that will probably sparks discussion in the coming weeks will be the result of single parties, with Forza Italia predicted to be in lower single digits. Another signal of the ongoing agony of the former leading party of Italian centre-right

 

Prediction: Likely Center-Right

 

Apulia

 

 

Apulia is the eighth most populated region of Italy. Like most southern regions Apulia is poorer than the national average. Apulia ranks 17th among the twenty regions on per capita-GDP statistics. Unemployment rate is also higher than the national average. Currently 23.1% of Apulia’s labour force is jobless, ranking the region second only to Calabria in unemployment statistics.

 

Politically speaking, like most southern regions, Apulia local politics used to be dominated by the Christian Democracy and the hard right Italian Social Movement during the so called First Republic, while left-wing parties were never able to really challenge the Christian Democratic hegemony.  Like most southern regions, after the collapse of the so called First Republic, Apulia local politics became largely unpredictable and extremely volatile.

Initially Apulia was considered a reliable region for the centre-right pole, with conservatives easy winning the region in both 1995 and 2000. But in 2005 a shocking result was the beginning of a dramatic change in Apulia local politics.

 

Hard left MP Nichi Vendola, in one of the biggest upset in the history of Italian regional elections, unseated incumbent conservative governor Raffaele Fitto, who was considered a big favourite to win re-election, by a razor-thin margin. The election of an openly homosexual hard left politician in a usually Catholic and conservative region, that was one of the few regions which supported the repeal of the divorce law in the 1973 and that heavily voted for the monarchy in 1946, came as a shock to many both on the right and the left.

 

The centre-right coalition easily won Apulia in both 2006 and 2008 legislative elections. This results led many to think that Vendola election was just a fluke and that in 2010 Apulia would quickly return to its usual conservative loyalty. But things turned out to be extremely different. During his first term Vendola proved to be a quite popular governor, while its right wing opposition was fractious and divided. When Vendola ran for re-election the centrist wing of the centre-left coalition challenged him in primary elections in hope that a more moderate candidate, like Francesco Boccia, might be able to obtain the endorsement of the centrist UDC, something that Vendola couldn’t achieve. Vendola survived the primary challenge and then went on to win the general election. The main reason that gave Vendola his second term was the internal clash on the right between former governor Raffaele Fitto and Lecce’s mayor Adriana Poli Bortone, the two main local bosses of the centre-right. Poli Bortone, who polls showed being the second most popular politician of the region behind Vendola, looked as the natural candidate, but Fitto vetoed her endorsement and instead forced the then People of Freedom to endorse his protégé Rocco Palese. Thanks to the right’s suicide, Vendola easily won re-election with a wider than expected margin. After his re-election Vendola started to raise its national profile, in hope to become the new leader of the left coalition. Vendola endorsed several candidates of its own hard left party, Left Ecology and Freedom, in several centre-left local primaries, most notably the current Milan mayor Giuliano Pisapia. However Vendola quickly lost momentum as his second term in Apulia was not as successful as his first term. Local troubles for Vendola led to his quick downfall in national relevance. He ran for the centre-left primaries in 2012, but came distant third with just 16% of votes. On 2013 general election, Vendola’s personal list “Left, Ecology and Freedom”, who endorsed Bersani, only obtained 3% of votes.

 

While on his first term Vendola used to be very popular, things changed abruptly in his second term as his administration became increasingly involved in financial and political scandals. Actually scandals started yet in the first term, when his deputy governor Stefano Tedesco was arrested. But Vendola was able to distance himself by his former deputy, given the fact that the two belong to different parties. But in second terms Vendola was repeatedly charged with accusation that ruined his political image and made him increasingly irrelevant on national politics and increasingly unpopular in his region. First he was charged for abuse of authority. Vendola was acquitted of all charges, but few weeks after his acquittal a journalistic inquiry revealed that the prosecutor who absolved him was a personal friend of Vendola’s sister. An inquiry started on the judge, but the inquiry established that the judge was only an acquaintance of his sister and thus this didn’t affected her judgment in the trial. This is Italian justice ladies and gentlemen.

 

Then again Vendola was charged for an health care scandal, and once again acquitted. But even if acquitted, his image was severely damaged. Then came the last nail in the coffin, Vendola was charged being one of the main responsible for the ILVA pollution scandal in Taranto. It is yet to be established if Vendola is guilty or not, but regardless of the outcome the ILVA scandal has definitely destroyed any chance for Vendola to have a political future in his own region or nationwide. A phone call of Vendola laughing with the public relations manager of the Riva family, owner of ILVA, at the scandal and the death of cancer that resulted from the pollution scandal. Wheteher he is found guilty or innocent now doesn’t matter, Vendola is politically dead. Just another history of a demagogue, like Bossi and Di Pietro, that started his career calling for transparence and end of corruption and ended it being just another member of the club of Italian crooks.

 

You’d think that, after all this mess conservatives will easily regained the region. After all, the right easily won the 2013 legislative elections in the region with a seven points margin. And even in June Apulia was one of the weakest performance for the Democratic Party who took “only” 34%, a result seven points lower than the national average. But in spite all the scandals of Vendola’s era, and its continuing conservative loyalty in legislative elections, it looks like Apulia will once again elect a left-wing governor. Two main reason for this seemingly unexplainable result

 

1. Apulia’s centre-left found another very strong candidate in Bari’s mayor Michele Emiliano. Emiliano, a former prosecutor turned politician, became an extremely popular left wing mayor in a usually reliable conservative city, being often cited as one of Italy’s most popular mayors. Emiliano has to date not been touched by Vendola’s toxic legacy, and ranks as the most popular politician in the region.

 

2, The conservative pole once again opted for a suicide, giving the public opinion a replay of the clash between Adriana Poli Bortone and Raffaele Fitto. Adriana Poli Bortone announced her second run for governor and was quickly endorsed by the Northern League southern spin-off, “Noi con Salvini” and what remains of Forza Italia. But once again Fitto vetoed Poli Bortone candidacy and endorsed former Bari province president Frnacesco Schittulli. Schittulli obtained the endorsement of the New Centre Right, the Brothers of Italy  and Fitto’s personal civic list. This also led Fitto on the way out from Forza Italia and the EPP. Fitto, who in the last year tried to impose himself as the new leader of the party, announced his withdrawal from the party, the EPP group were he seated and the foundation of a new party. In Brussels now Fitto aderes to the ECR, the soft eurosceptic group founded by British Tories, has called for Italy to exit from Brussels’s cage and praised Cameron’s leadership. Another signal of Italy’s growing distrust for EU? Regardless, thanks to Fitto and Poli Bortone ongoing clash, Michele Emiliano will cruise to victory.

 

Maybe, being Emiliano an extremely strong candidate, even a united centre-right would have find hard to defeat him, but at least they would have given him a run for his money. With the current situation the only thing left undecided his who will be the runner-up, if Schittulli, Poli-Bortone or 5 Star Movement flag bearer Antonella Laricchia. Polls show Emiliano widely ahead with roughly 42% of votes, with Schittulli, Poli Bortone and Laricchia all polling around 17-20% each.

 

Prediction: Solid Centre-Left

 

Tuscany

 

Tuscany is the ninth most populated region of Italy. Tuscany is usually considered a moderate wealthy region, with a GDP per capita higher than the national average and an unemployement rate lower than the national average. Usually Tuscany ranks in the upper half in public services statistics. However the economic crisis has put somewhat in jeopardy Tuscany status as a wealthy region. Unemployment rate, though still lower than national average, is currently at 11.0%, more than doubled in the last four years.

 

Politically, Tuscany is usually seen, alongside with Emilia Romagna, as the historical heartland of the Italian left. In the so called First Republic the late Communist Party often led the region with a majority of seats. Tuscany and Emilia Romagna have usually been sold by the Italian left as the example of their good governing skills. In the so called Second Republic, Tuscany became an inexpugnable stronghold of the centre-left coalition, and the centre-right never really challenged the left dominance in the region, with left-wing governors usually elected with comfortable margins.

 

Though incumbent governor Enrico Rossi looks unbeatable, there’s a small chance  he might be forced to a runoff. Tuscany is the only region whose electoral law impose a runoff if no candidate reaches the 40% threshold. Rossi, in current polls is running with roughly 45% of votes. Though even in the unlikely scenario of Rossi being forced to a runoff, he will still be the overwhelming favorite to secure a second term. Even the great scandal of the Monte Paschi di Siena, one of the greatest bank in Italy, (whose board was largely nominated by left-wing run local administrations) which need a billionaire government bailout, seemed to have no effect on the race.

 

Rossi being an overwhelming favourite to win re-election the real interest is focused on who will be the runner-up. The race for second place is, unlike the overall race, wide open and polls show a tight race between the 5 Star Movement flag bearer Giacomo Giannarelli and the economist Claudio Borghi Aquilini, endorsed by the Northern League and the Brothers of Italy. Stefano Mugnai is Forza Italia candidate, who polls distant fourth, battling with far left candidate Tommaso Fattori for the fourth spot. Though Rossi is almost assured of being re-elected it will be really interesting to see who will come second, and how much will the League obtain in terms of votes

 

Prediction: Solid Centre-Left

 

Liguria

 

 

Liguria is the 12th most populated region of Italy. Though GDP per capita in Liguria is higher than the national average and its unemployment rate is lower, Liguria is often considered the poorest region in Northern Italy. Like in most other regions, the crisis hit hard Liguria, leading its unemployment rate to almost double in the last years of recession.

 

Politically speaking Liguria in the so called First Republic used to lean towards the Communist Party, who won a plurality of votes and seats in four of the five elections held under the proportional representation law. In the so called Second Republic Liguria has become a left-wing leaning region. Though Liguria usually leans to the left, this lean is not overwhelming like the lead that the left has in central Italy region. So, though the left has won three of the four elections held under the current electoral law, most of these elections have been quite competitive. To date however the center-right has been able to win the region only in 2000.

 

In the last years Liguria’s politics have been overshadowed by polemics over the bad  handling of natural disasters by local governments. Incumbent center-left governor, Claudio Burlando, incumbent Genoa mayor Marco Doria and former Genoa mayor Marta Vincenzi, all centre-left politicians, had to face harsh criticism and even legal troubles over their alleged neglectfulness in facing a series of environmental crisis. In the fall of 2011 a flood in Genoa caused the death of six people, and then mayor Vincenzi suddenly became  object of criticism over her decision of not closing the schools, having indirectly caused the death of a mother, who went out to take back her daughter from school and her two daughters. Few months later Vincenzi was charged for multiple culpable homicide; culpable disaster and false witness, having tried to cover up her role in the decisions that resulted in the death of six people. Vincenzi, in spite this heavy accusation, tried to run for a second term as Genoa mayor, but was defeated in primaries by Enrico Doria, who also easily won the mayoral elections.

 

In 2014, however a new flood caused again several damages in the city of Genoa, including the death of a man. Genoa mayor, Doria and governor Burlando were both heavily criticized over their ineptitude in preventing those disasters and their environmental policies. Doria was booed by citizens while visiting the neighborhoods hit by the flood.

 

The center-left primaries saw a heated and harsh internal debate, that led to a regional schism. Longtime heavy weight of the Democratic Party, Sergio Cofferati, was seen as the favourite to win the contest, but was upset by regional minister Raffaella Paita. However Cofferati didn’t recognize the result, denouncing fraud and buying and selling of votes by Paita camp. Cofferati and his loyals in the Democratic Party decided to run against Paita in the general election. In particular Cofferati accused Paita camp of having bought votes from Roma, Chinese and Moroccan immigrants. Cofferati camp then endorsed a loyal MP, Luca Pastorino, who also obtained the endorsement of minor left parties.

 

Due to the schism in the left and the rage sparked by the scandals in Genoa the right was supposed to have a shot. Early polls showed the Northern League regional leader, Edoardo Rixi, running neck and neck with Paita. But, in a surprise move, Salvini signed a deal with Berlusconi that forced the League to endorse a Forza Italia candidate in Liguria, in exchange for Forza Italia support of Zaia in Veneto. The deal was met with criticism from the League base. The candidate of Forza Italia, former journalist and current MEP Giovanni Toti, was largely seen as a very weak candidate, prompting the left to think the race was over and Paita was on course to win.

 

But few days after the announcement of the agreement between the main parties on the right, a bomb exploded. Paita was charged in court for the disastrous flood of 2014. Paita, among others, was charged in court for culprit homicide, culprit disaster and cover-up by the prosecutors investigating on the 2014 flood. Voices within the Democratic Party asked Paita to retire, but Renzi reiterated his personal support for Paita and campaigned for her. After the news of Paita trial polls showed her running neck and neck with Toti and also showed a rise in polling intentions for Alice Salvatori, the 5 Star Movement candidate. Final polls show Toti and Paita running neck and neck and pollin around 28% each, while Salvatori was rising with around 24% of voting intentions, Pastorino polling around 13% and the centrist Enrico Musso coming last with around 6%.

 

Given the rage, the weakness of the right candidate, and the fact that Liguria is Grillo home region I think that Salvatori may have a small (very small) shot to pull the upset, although most likely the election will be a tight race between Toti and Paita. This will probably be the closest region on Sunday night, with a small chance of becoming a three-way toss-up

 

Prediction: Toss-Up

 

Marche

 

Marche is the 13th most populated region of Italy. Its GDP per capita is in line with national average, and its unemployment rate is currently 10.6%, lower than national average (13.3). Some statistics pointed Marche as one of the regions that most suffered the current economic crisis. In spite of the crisis, Marche usually ranks moderately well on service statistics.

 

Politically speaking Marche used to be a swing region in the so called First Republic, with Christian Democracy and the Communist Party often coming extremely close and alternating in the role of first party of the region, with the Christian Democracy winning a plurality three times and the Communist Party winning a plurality two times, often with razor-thin margin.

 

In the so called Second Republic, Marche shifted towards the left becoming a reliable region for progressive coalition, though never being as left wing as its neighbouring Umbria; Tuscany and Emilia Romagna. 2000 elections have so far been the closest election since governors became directly elected with the centre-left winning with a 5 points margin. All other regional elections ended with double digit victories for the centre-left pole. Though often the center-right put his eyes on the region in recent years but lately have never been able to truly make the region competitive. A signal of potential change came in 2013 legislative elections, when the 5 Star Movement won a plurality of votes in the region, but the Movement have had lot of trouble confirming his national results in local elections.

 

The race became awkward when incumbent centre-left governor, Gian Mario Spacca, announced his run for a third term. Rules within the Democratic Party prohibits party members to run for a third term as governor, even if the regional law allows them to do so. Spacca, in order to run for a third term split with his party and announce his candidacy as independent. Thinking that maybe this might be a chance to finally conquer the regional government, Forza Italia and the New Center Right endorsed Spacca. But the right failed to unite behind the incumbent governor, as the Northern League and the Brothers of Italy refused to endorse Spacca, endorsing Francesco Acquaroli. The centre-left selected Luca Ceriscioli, a former mayor of Pesaro, that was endorsed by the Democratic Party, while the hard left ran its own candidate Edoardo Mentrasti. The 5 Star Movement nominated Giovanni Massi

 

This awkward and strange race might led to some surprise, though polls show a lead for Ceriscioli over Spacca close to double digit. Polls give Ceriscioli around 35% to Spacca 25% and 5 Star Movement Massi coming third with around 20%. Acquaroli, endorsed by the League and the Brothers of Italy, runs distant fourth with roughly 12% of voting intentiuons, while the hard left candidate polls around 8%. This is probably a missed chance for the center-right. If the hard right parties decided endorsed Spacca, the conservative pole might have had an historical chance, but the divisions on the right only helped the left in securing a now very likely victory. It will be interesting however to see who, between Spacca and Massi, will come second, and if the League is able to surpass Forza Italia even in a region that never gave that party good results.

 

Prediciton: Likely Centre-Left

 

Umbria

 

 

 

Umbria is the least populated among the regions that will vote on Sunday. Umbria is usually described as the poorer region from north and central Italy. Its GDP per capita is lower than the national average, and ranks 9th among twenty for unemployment rate. Though its unemployment is slightly lower than national average, is higher than all regions from northern and central Italy.

 

Politically Umbria has always been a stronghold of the Italian left. During the First Republic the Communist Party dominated local politics winning a majority or a plurality of seats in all elections under the proportional representation system. Since 1995 Umbria continued its left-wing loyalty, with centre-left candidate always winning gubernatorial elections with comfortable margins. The centre-right pole has never been able to mount a credible challenge to the left dominance in the region. Five years ago, Catiuscia Marini of the Democratic Party easily won her first term with a 20 points margin. However the severe economic crisis, that hit the region hardly, and a series of scandals might led the region to its closest contest ever. Marini has not been personally touched by scandals, but her predecessor, Maria Rita Lorenzetti, her lieutenant governor, Orfeo Goracci, and former Perugia mayor Renato Locchi have all been involved in high profile scandals of bribery and corruption. Probabily this series of scandals have been the main reason behind the shocking result in last year Perugia’s mayoral elections, that saw a conservative candidate upsetting incumbent centre-left mayor, ending seventy years of uninterrupted left-wing dominance in the region’s capital. Opinion polls show the incumbent governor lead’s over conservative Assisi mayor, Claudio Ricci, who has been able to coalesce all right of centre parties behind him, has decreased to lower single digits in most recent polls. The scandals and the challenge of the hard left, which has its own candidate, and the 5 Star Movement, might help Ricci in creating the closest race Umbria has ever witnessed. Though it’s the smallest of the seven region voting on Sunday, it might be extremely important for the left to hold this historical stronghold. If the right pulls the upset, ending fourty-five years of leftist hegemony, it might sign the end for Renzi’s government.

 

Prediction: Leaning Centre-Left

 

Venice mayoral election

Alongside the seven regions, lots of municipalities will vote to renew their mayor and their city council. The most important among the municipalities is Venice, the capital of Veneto.

 

While Veneto has always been a conservative stronghold, allergic to the left in both the First and Second republic, its capital has an extremely different electoral behavior, due to its particular social and demographic composition. In the so called First Republic, Venice used to swing between the Christian Democracy and the Communist Party. The Communist Party strength in the region capital, in relation to its weakness in the region overall was probably due to support from blue collar workers in Mestre and Marghera,  seats of large petrochemical industry. While blue-collar workers are now no more the main constituent of Italian centre-left, their number decreased in the 90’s while state employees and retirees, who have replaced blue-collars as the main constituents of Italian centre-left, now compose around 60% of the voting age population in the city

 

In the 90’s with the beginning of the so called Second Republic, Venice became a stronghold of the centre-left. In the last twenty years Venice has been a red stain in an overwhelming conservative region. Massimo Cacciari, a centre-left philosopher, won the first direct mayoral election in 1993 and again in 1997. In 2000, when Cacciari resigned to run for governor, his protégé Paolo Costa easily won the election in a runoff over conservative candidate Brunetta. 2005 was the closest election the city of Venice faced since the beginning of direct mayoral elections. Although the runoff was not between right and left, but between to left-wing candidates. Cacciari came back and defeat fellow centre-left member Felice Casson by a razor-thin margin, mainly thanks to conservative voters who, in the runoff opted for him against Casson, perceived as too extreme. Cacciari however declined to run in 2010, and endorsed Piergiorgio Orsoni, former president of the Venice University. Orsoni, who was also endorsed by the centrist UDC, won the municipal election with an eight points margin over conservative Brunetta.

 

One year ago Orsoni was arrested due to his involvement in a bribery scandal, algonside former conservative governor Galan. Several other members of the Democratic Party, like former president of Venice province, Zoggia, were largely involved in the scandal. The “Venice system” quickly became a national embarrassment for the Democratic Party. One of the businessmen charged with bribery stated to prosecutors he corrupted all Venice major political figures in the last twenty years, almost all belong to the Democratic Party.

 

Additionally to the corruption scandal several journalistic inquiries denounced the urban decay of Venice. Photos of foreign tourists, urinating, pooping and even having sex in public in the city, were published by local newspapers in the summer of 2014, and quickly rose to national prominence.

 

Another inquiry that exposed the city corruption started over the horrible Calatrava bridge that links the train station to the town. The bridge became the subject of jokes and protests, due to its high costs, slipperies and awfulness. The bridge costed almost 13 million euros, the double of what was prevented at the beginning. The personal salary of Calatrava, around 4 million Euros, was also object of an inquiry with Calatrava himself being put on trial. The bridge was also severly criticized for the fact of being slippery. Several people slipped on the bridge, sometimes even get injured.

 

Trying to walk away from the now toxic legacy of Orsoni and Cacciari, the Democratic Party recalled Felice Casson, the runner up of 2005 elections. Casson, a former prosecutor turned politicians has always been a vocal critic of the Cacciari system, and has tried to pose as a new clean face for the now slandered venetian centre-left. The centre-right was unable to coalesce around a single candidate. Forza Italia and the New Centre Right endorsed the president of the local basketball team, Luigi Brugnaro. The politically independent Brugnaro is, according to pollsters the most likely rival of Casson in a potential runoff. The League split between two candidates, Francesca Zacariotto, a former Venice province president and former League member, who was endorsed the Brothers of Italy, while the League endorsed economist Gian Angelo Bellati, known for his separatist opinions. The 5 Star Movement endorsed Davide Scano.

Felice Casson is considered the front-runner according to polls, but he might face a runoff. Due to what happened last year in Perugia, Livorno and Padua, where left-wing front-runners where upset by challengers from the right or the 5 Star Movement, Renzi came to Venice to campaign for Casson, repeatedly stating that Casson must win in the first round and avoid a potentially dangerous runoff with Brugnaro. In case of a runoff, things might turn dangerous for the front-runner

Prediction: Leaning Centre-Left

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Posted on May 28, 2015, in Election Preview, Italy, Regional and local elections. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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