In Italy, Emilia Romagna halts right-wing surge, with a little help from the Sardine Movement

The provincial elections in Emilia Romagna saw the center-left Democratic Party defeating the right-wing led by Matteo Salvini’s League. Emilia Romagna was the epicenter of the Sardine Movement which was directed against the right wing

January 30, 2020 by Muhammed Shabeer
Emilia-Romagna Elections
Stefano Bonacinni of the Democratic Party (PD) led the center-left coalition to the victory.

Progressive sections in the historically left-leaning province of Emilia Romagna in Italy successfully resisted a formidable far-right coalition in the provincial elections, the results of which were declared on January 26, Sunday. The center-left coalition led by incumbent provincial president Stefano Bonacinni of the Democratic Party (PD) received 51% of the votes in the presidential ballot and retained 29 seats in the 50-seat provincial legislative council. The right-wing coalition led by Lucia Borgonzoni from Matteo Salvini’s League received 43% votes, securing 19 seats.

The 2020 elections in Emilia Romagna had acquired much significance as for the first time in the post-world war history of the left-leaning province, a formidable electoral challenge was mounted by the right-wing in the provincial elections. The province has been a stronghold of the Italian communists and has been dominated by the center-left Democratic Party since the 1990s. 

However, the right-wing in Italy has made significant advances in the recent regional elections under the polarizing leadership of Matteo Salvini, who has been running a vitriolic campaign centered on Euro-scepticism, hyper-nationalism and vicious anti-immigrant tirades. Most of the center-right, right-wing and far-right parties in Italy have consolidated under the leadership of Salvini. The right wing won regional presidencies in five provinces last year, and two in 2018, with the incumbent Democratic Party (PD) losing out in each of these instances. 

Salvini and his party shot to prominence in the 2018 Italian general elections. He joined the federal government as the deputy prime minister and the minister of interior in a coalition with the Five Star Movement (M5S). In 2019, he tried to capitalize on his rising popularity by breaking the ruling coalition and trying to rule Italy independently. However, a tactical alliance between the PD and M5S stopped him. Even so, the far-right’s momentum has continued. It is in this context that League mounted a formidable electoral challenge in Emilia Romagna. 

But sensing a vicious threat at the doorsteps, the youth in the province’s ‘Red City’, Bologna, with the support of the regional PD, initiated a massive counter-offensive against Salvini on November 14 that became famous as the anti-Salvini Sardine movement. A flash mob named ‘6000 Sardines against Salvini’ was called at the Piazza Maggiore square in Bologna, its numbers overtaking that of an event attended by Salvini on the same day at Paldozaa.

This escalated into a country-wide movement that drew tens of thousands of people in Italian cities and small towns against the far-right surge. Even though the leadership of the Italian left and the communists have not officially endorsed the Sardines – pointing out that the Sardines are not critical of the PD-Five Star government – their supporters have actively participated in the Sardine protests held across the country. It is quite likely that the Sardine movement was vital in rejuvenating an exhausted PD in Emilia Romagna. Meanwhile, M5S was  been decimated in the elections, getting only 3.5% of votes and 2 seats in the legislative assembly. The separate lists of the leftist coalitions, the Potere al Popolo, Partito Communista and the European left communists, also did not manage to secure a significant percentage of the votes in the heavily polarized contest.

Meanwhile, in the elections held on the same day in the province of Calabria, the right-wing coalition led by Jole Santelli from the Forza Italia won the presidency of the region with 55% of the vote and 20 seats in the provincial legislative council, defeating the incumbent PD-led alliance.