Local vote reflections

On Sunday 3 and Monday 4 October about 12 million Italians will elect the mayors and municipal councils of 1,157 towns. Among these are the main cities of our peninsula: Rome, Milan, Naples, Turin and Bologna.

Although this undoubtedly is the most important electoral event in Italy since the outbreak of the pandemic, the vote will not have repercussions on the government of Prime Minister Mario Draghi. The national political environment will remain substantially unchanged until February 2022, when Parliament will elect the new head of State. It will be the outcome of that scrutiny that will have the greatest chance of influencing the political and legislative balance of power.

Nonetheless, the fact that the elections in the five main Italian cities is up for grabs makes this round a test not to be underestimated and of great symbolic impact for the different political forces. On the media level, in fact, the vote in big cities has always had an undeniable weight.

For center-left forces, for example, a victory in the big cities would be all the more important in order to counterbalance the narrative according to which the center-right would have a clear advantage in a possible national vote. It is no mystery that in Italy the bulk of voters live in small and medium-sized municipalities, where moderate and conservative political orientations tend to prevail.

In the Sunday and Monday vote, the Democratic Party and its allies start from an advantage of 3 to 0 against the center-right, since they’re to elect the first citizens of Bologna (Matteo Lepore), Naples (Gaetano Manfredi) and Milan (Giuseppe Sala). The situation is different in Rome and Turin, where the center-right candidates (respectively, Enrico Michetti and Paolo Damilano) have greater (but not overwhelming) chances of success and the race will still be decided by the ballot.

If at a general level the trend lines therefore appear rather defined, the election round of the weekend will offer in any case food for thought. For example, the losers will have to deal with the predictable tension that follows defeat and that will affect relations with allies and party leaderships.

The first point to evaluate will be the state of health of the League, which after the triumph at the European elections in 2019 is going through a phase of decline. In this sense, the weekend vote risks accelerating the showdown between the secretary Matteo Salvini and the influential governors of the northern regions, who contest his assertive and combative attitude now that the party has assumed responsibilities in the governing coalition and it administers some the most productive territories of Italy.

A second point of reflection linked to the previous one concerns the relations of Salvini’s party with the far-right Brothers of Italy party, to establish once and for all who counts the most in the center-right coalition and to understand what kind of role can Giorgia Meloni play ahead of national elections. Today the opposition force is in good health, but must deal with the prospect of Michetti’s electoral fiasco in the capital and consider the fact that in the future it could be precisely its strong far-right stance to become the most difficult obstacle to realize its government ambitions.

A third point of reflection concerns Forza Italia, which risks meeting its latest requiem. All the more so when the coalition of which it is an integral part has lost the connotations of the moderate and liberal alliance built over the years by Silvio Berlusconi. And all the more so given the former premier’s perplexities about the leadership of Meloni and Salvini, not to mention the political prospects of their parties.

Another point that deserves some attention concerns the result of the M5S, which will not record any exploits and which can consider Rome and Turin practically already lost. The two cities were the greatest surprises of the 2016 local vote. The opposite is true for Naples, but only thanks to the alliance with the Democratic Party.

In this sense, the real question to ask is therefore whether the elections will end up accelerating (or not) the prospect of a structural alliance between the Movement and the PD, especially when the 5Stars had to put aside the ambition to become the third pole of the national political landscape. From this point of view, the outcome of votes in Rome and Turin appears to be the most interesting testing ground for assessing the state of PD-M5S relations and the feasibility of their alliance in view of policies.

The last point of our reflection concerns the extent of the victory of the center-left and the way in which this will eventually impact on the internal balance of the Democratic Party. It is no mystery that the party of Enrico Letta (candidate in Siena for the seat in the Chamber left vacant by the former minister Pier Carlo Padoan) sees in the elections a crucial junction to confirm itself as the natural reference point of the moderate electorate and to claim the role of pivotal force in the ruling coalition. An indispensable status to be asserted in view of a crucial step which will be the election of the Quirinale.