ROME (AP) — Italy’s center-left forces won big in Rome, Turin and several other mayoral runoffs on Monday, dealing embarrassing defeats to the anti-migrant and far-right parties that are hoping to capture Italy's premiership in the next national election.
Roberto Gualtieri from Italy's Democratic Party trounced a challenger who had been selected by the Brothers of Italy, a party with neo-fascist roots, to win Rome’s City Hall, taking some 60% of the vote, with nearly all the ballots counted.
Democratic Party leader Enrico Letta predicted that the center-left wins over right-wing alliances will dampen any push by conservative forces, which include the anti-migrant League party, to hold an early national election. That enhances Premier Mario Draghi's prospects of continuing in office until Parliament's term expires in 2023.
Letta also interpreted the Democratic Party-anchored winning alliances as resounding affirmation of Draghi's tough anti-pandemic policies. Those include a recently implemented Green Pass decree that workers must be vaccinated, recently recovered from COVID-19 or test negative for the virus to enter their workplaces. The rule has sparked protests, including violence, mainly by right-wing opponents.
“We (in the center-left) were on the side of broadening the Green Pass, on the side of the wide majority of Italians who want to work and want the country to be relaunched” by emerging from the pandemic, Letta told reporters.
The sole notable defeat for the center-left came in Trieste, where the center-right mayor, Roberto Dipiazza, won another term with 51.5% of the vote. Many angry port workers in that northeast city have opposed the Green Pass rule. On Monday, riot police repeatedly used water cannons to try to break up the protest, but demonstrators were still squaring off with officers into the evening.
In national opinion polls in recent months, both Matteo Salvini of the League and Giorgia Meloni of Brothers of Italy had been neck-in-neck in popularity. Meloni, whose far-right party is Parliament's main opposition party, bitterly opposed the Green Pass workplace requirement. Salvini, whose League is a Draghi coalition member, had sought vainly to convince Draghi to soften the rule by making COVID-19 tests free to workers who oppose vaccination.
“It had seemed inevitable” that for the right “the only question was who would be the next premier, Salvini or Meloni," said Letta, but he added that the center-left mayoral wins proved "rosier than any expectations.”
In problem-plagued Rome, Gualtieri defeated Enrico Michetti, a novice politician handpicked by Meloni, who cited the low 40% turnout to diminish the Democratic candidate's victory.
“When the mayor of Rome is elected by 24% of those eligible to vote ... there is a crisis of democracy,” Meloni said.
Gualtieri faces a Herculean task of cleaning up a city where trash and recycling collection is often inadequate, public buses have caught fire and broken elevators have put key subway stations out of service.
But “this city can be re-born,” he insisted.
Meloni conceded “the center-right comes out defeated in these mayoral elections."
But she contended that it was the populist 5-Stars who had suffered the real “debacle," which recalibrated Italy's national politics to a question of center-right vs. center-left. Barely a decade in existence, the 5-Stars' stunning success in 2018 saw them become Parliament's largest party and the kingmaker in deciding who became premier.
Rome's current 5-Star mayor, Virginia Raggi, was eliminated in first-round voting and the 5-Star mayor in Turin had declined to seek another term.
Salvini's northern-based right-wing party suffered some stinging setbacks in the mayoral races, including a resounding first-round defeat for his candidate for Milan, Italy's financial capital, which reelected its center-left mayor.
Frances D'emilio, The Associated Press