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Italy: Berlusconi’s Alliance Wins in Sicily, but Far Right Sits in the Driver’s Seat

The outcome of the regional election in Sicily suggests that the center-right is the frontrunner ahead of next year’s general elections. Yet, it is doubtful whether it will secure an outright parliamentary majority.

In the center-right bloc, the more populist right will likely play a major role, significantly curtailing Silvio Berlusconi’s room for maneuver after the vote and complicating possible attempts, in a hung parliament scenario, to create some sort of grand coalition with Matteo Renzi’s PD.

In Sicily, the candidate endorsed by the center-right, Nello Musumeci, won the race for the governorship with 39.8% of the votes cast. Unexpectedly, the center-right also managed to win a thin majority in the 70-member regional assembly with 36 seats. Within the bloc that supported Musumeci’s candidacy, the winner was the far right Fratelli d’Italia (FdI), not so much Berlusconi’s more moderate Forza Italia. Berlusconi’s party did well: it received 16.4% of votes, making it the second strongest party in the island, and the former prime minister was instrumental in creating a center-right alliance. However, he is not necessarily in the driving seat.

This outcome confirms that the center-right can only be competitive if it has the support of Forza Italia, but Berlusconi will struggle to impose his more moderate line on his populist allies, the Lega Nord (LN) leader Matteo Salvini and FdI’s Georgia Meloni. The recent “referenda” in Lombardia and Veneto have indicated that LN is the driving force of the center-right in the north while Meloni can now claim a similar role for her party in the south. This means that Berlusconi may have to bargain hard with both over the selection of candidates for the single-member districts in the general elections.

The M5S failed to win the governorship; its candidate arrived second with 34.7%. However, it became the strongest party in Sicily. With 27%, the M5S failed to make a breakthrough in a region where overall unemployment is at 22% (double the national average) and at 57% among the youth. Regardless, the M5S managed to almost double its vote in comparison to the previous regional elections (14.9%) and its performance was similar to the one registered in the 2014 European Parliament elections (26.3%). The low turnout seems to have penalized the M5S as many potential “protest voters” simply decided to abstain.

With or without the support of leftist parties, the center-left is no longer competitive: its candidate received only 18.7% of votes. The PD is struggling as reflected by its meager result of 13%. Both its current allies, AP, and its possible future partners, MDP, are in even worse shape. AP, whose leader Angelino Alfano is from Sicily, received 4.2%, failing to clear the 5% threshold for representation in the regional assembly. The MDP, created by a group of PD dissidents, did slightly better, just clearing the threshold.

Despite the setback in Sicily, Matteo Renzi’s leadership of the PD is not at risk. However, there is likely to be new pressure on the PD leader to assume a more moderate line and seek an alliance with leftist parties ahead of the parliamentary elections.

Turnout was only 46.75%, the lowest ever in Sicily. This is a further sign of the flagging interest in politics and of the deep disillusionment prevailing in Italy.