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Giorgia Meloni suffers blow at polls as her Italian Right-wing candidate narrowly loses

Alessandra Todde who won a regional election in Sardinia
Alessandra Todde who won a regional election in Sardinia - LaPresse/Shutterstock

Giorgia Meloni suffered her first significant political blow since being elected Italy’s prime minister 18 months ago after her party lost a regional election in Sardinia.

In a tight contest, the centre-Left claimed victory in the election on the Mediterranean island.

Their candidate, Alessandra Todde, clinched 45.4 per cent of votes, narrowly beating the centre-Right candidate, Paolo Truzzu, who took 45 per cent of the vote.

Ms Meloni had thrown her weight behind Mr Truzzu, who is from her Right-wing Brothers of Italy party and has served as the mayor of Cagliari, Sardinia’s regional capital.

Italy's Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni
Italy's prime minister Giorgia Meloni has suffered a blow at the polls - GUGLIELMO MANGIAPANE/REUTERS

The contest was seen as the first test for Ms Meloni’s coalition government since she was elected Italy’s first female prime minister in October 2022.

“The somewhat unexpected defeat is the first major electoral setback for Meloni since taking office in 2022 and proves that a more united opposition can take on the government, despite Meloni’s enduring popularity,” said Federico Santi, an analyst from the political risk consultancy Eurasia Group.

The League, a junior party in the governing coalition that is led by deputy prime minister Matteo Salvini, performed particularly poorly, said Mr Santi.

‘Her domestic standing at risk’

“If this trend continues, it would undermine Meloni’s standing domestically and lead to more tensions within the coalition government.”

Francesco Galietti, the founder of Policy Sonar, a political think tank, said Ms Meloni had made an error in pushing an unpopular candidate.

“Truzzu was one of Italy’s least beloved mayors,” he said.

“And yet she pushed ahead. Perhaps the biggest takeaway is that Sardinia has shattered the myth of Meloni’s political invincibility.”

The vote in Sardinia was the first of five regional elections in Italy this year.

The Meloni government will also face a test at the European Parliament elections in June.

Ms Todde, the winning candidate in Sardinia, will become the island’s first female governor.

She is a member of the populist Five Star Movement, which allied with the centre-Left Democratic Party for the election.

“Today we’ve shown that the Right can be beaten,” said Elly Schlein, who leads the Democratic Party.

‘Slap to the government’

Giuseppe Conte, a former prime minister who leads the Five Star Movement, said: “Sardinian citizens have closed the door on Meloni and company and opened it to the alternative. The air has changed.”

The election result was hailed by Corriere della Sera, a leading daily, as “a blow to the centre-Right” while another paper, La Stampa, said it was “a slap to the government”.

The victory marks the first time that the centre-Left has been able to take back a region since 2015.

At the national level, however, the coalition government is still relatively popular and Ms Meloni has vowed to remain in power for a full five-year term.

Her Brothers of Italy party has around 28 per cent of the national vote, compared to 20 per cent for the Democratic Party and 16 per cent for the Five Star Movement.