In hugely significant regional elections Sunday, populists handed the reigning Democratic Party a stinging defeat in Sicily, presaging serious trouble for the ailing center-left in next spring’s national election.
The globalist Democratic Party of former prime minister Matteo Renzi suffered a stunning defeat, picking up a paltry 19 percent of the vote and a distant third place, while the two Euro-skeptic populist contenders split the majority vote almost evenly.
Making a remarkable comeback was the indefatigable Silvio Berlusconi at the helm of a newly constituted center-right coalition consisting of his Forza Italia party, along with the conservative Northern League and the Fratelli d’Italia (Brothers of Italy).
The coalition’s candidate for governor of Sicily, Nello Musumeci, took 40 percent of the vote on the island, while Giancarlo Cancelleri of the anti-establishment Five-Star Movement took a healthy 35 percent.
In recent years, Sicily has suffered the brunt of Europe’s migrant crisis, as Italy’s primary port-of-call for African migrants crossing the Mediterranean from Libya. Many blame the ruling Democratic regime for Italy’s immigration disaster, for its failure to stand up to the European Union and control Italy’s outside borders.
All eyes were on the regional elections as an important indicator of Italians’ voting intentions for next spring’s national elections. The Northern League, in particular, needed to prove its ability to move beyond its separatist past to become a truly national party.
Meanwhile, Luigi Di Maio of the Five-Star Movement canceled a televised debate with Matteo Renzi scheduled for Tuesday, saying that the former PM is no longer a “leader,” while re-launching the ambitions of the Movement. Acknowledging that the vote did not win the Sicilian presidency for the M5S, “from here a wave is mounting that can bring us 40 percent and to Palazzo Chigi [the Italian version of the White House] in 4 months,” he said.
Mr. Berlusconi seemed euphoric over the election’s outcome, suggesting that the Sicilian test offers real hope for the center-right at the national level. “Musumeci’s victory is the victory of the moderates who believe in the possibility of a better future and real change,” Berlusconi said.
The 81-year-old Berlusconi has reemerged as a national political player after coming through open-heart surgery last year as well as a string of scandals that plagued his last term in office.
The President of the northern Lombardy region, Roberto Maroni, expressed his admiration for Berlusconi’s resilience.
“Berlusconi is immortal, I’ve always said so,” Maroni said. “Berlusconi is immortal and he is always the one dealing the cards.”
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