Italy right triumphs in left-wing stronghold

Rome (AFP) –


Italy's right-wing opposition alliance was Monday celebrating an eye-catching victory in a left stronghold, which has dealt an embarrassing blow to the country's ruling coalition.

Firebrand Matteo Salvini had vowed to wrest Umbria, a hilly region prized for its truffles and prosciutto, from the left in the first of several key region elections he hopes will sweep him back to power.

Salvini said the results of Sunday's vote were "extraordinary", expressing his "joy and emotion" after the right's candidate Donatella Tesei won with more than 57 percent, compared to 37 percent for the coalition government's candidate.

It was Salvini's anti-immigrant League party that had swept the board, bringing home 37 percent of the vote alone in a region which has voted left for 70 years but has been hit hard by the economic crisis.

The former interior minister's campaign trail allies -- the smaller, far-right Brothers of Italy, and former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi's centre-right Forza Italia -- respectively won 10 percent and 5.8 percent.

The government coalition of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S) and centre-left Democratic Party (PD) -- former foes -- had joined forces for the regional vote in a bid to beat Salvini, but came up short.

The PD won 22 percent, but the M5S took home just 7.4 percent -- a pitiful result which shook the party to its core.

Salvini said the "days are numbered" for Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and the PD and M5S leaders, who are accused by the right of having betrayed Italians by forming an alliance to prevent Italy heading to elections they would likely lose.

"The centre-right has the right and duty to govern the country," Berlusconi said after the Umbria win, while Brothers of Italy head Giorgia Meloni said "if I was Conte, I'd hand in my resignation faster than light".

Political analysts had said a poor result for the M5S could spark an internal rebellion within the Movement by those who were against the tie-up with the hated PD on a national level, or those who want their leader Luigi Di Maio gone.

"We always considered the civil pact for Umbria to be a test, but the experiment did not work," M5S said on Facebook.

It said a tie-up with the PD at other regional votes was now in question but brushed off suggestions the coalition government could be brought down by the Umbria loss.

The Democratic Party acknowledged it had been hampered at the ballot box by a health sector scandal: Umbria governor and PD member Catiuscia Marini quit in April following a probe into competitive exams for the hiring of hospital staff.