Italy’s right was celebrating Monday after big victories in local elections, with all eyes on a potential comeback for former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi just months before the country holds national elections.
Berlusconi’s Forza Italia (Go Italy) party and the anti-immigrant Northern League won 16 of the 22 cities up for grabs Sunday in a shock setback for the governing centre-left Democratic Party (PD).
In the biggest blow of this second round of municipal elections, the northern city of Genoa — traditionally a bastion of the left — passed to the centre-right for the first time in more than 50 years.
Former centre-left prime minister Matteo Renzi, who hopes the next general election will return him to power, dismissed the wins as having little bearing on national voter sentiment, but the mood on the left was sombre.
“It couldn’t have gone worse. And not just for Matteo Renzi, not just for the PD. But for the whole of the Italian left,” editorialist Riccardo Barenghi wrote in the left-leaning La Stampa daily.
It was “as if we’d gone back 23 years to when the left was beaten by the Cavaliere (Berlusconi), who appeared on the scene like a rabbit from a magician’s hat, and today reappears like a castigating ghost”.
The next general election must be held by spring 2018, but the coalition supporting Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni is fragile and many experts say the government could call elections for late in the year.
At the national level, the PD and the populist Five Star Movement (M5S) are running neck-and-neck in the polls, each with about 30 percent of voter intentions, while Forza Italia and the Northern League are each hovering at around 14 percent.
Political commentator Stefano Folli called Sunday’s results “a searing and very painful loss for the left.”
“Berlusconi reveals himself to be politically immortal,” he wrote in the centre-left daily La Repubblica.
Berlusconi, 80, had been largely absent from politics — though not the gossip pages — following his ousting in 2011 and his party had since struggled with internal divisions and corruption scandals.
On Sunday it benefited in part by picking up votes from supporters of Five Star, which performed poorly in the first round and failed to make it into run-offs in any of the largest cities.
“If we can stay united, we will win the legislative elections and govern,” a triumphant Berlusconi said.
Renzi, 42, limited himself to admitting that “it could have gone better.”