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Is Renzi’s frenetic austerity-reform agenda fuelling the far-right?

As it has been argued in the mainstream media, the regional election vote in Italy is a warning signal to PM Matteo Renzi.

His ‘centre-left’ Democratic Party (PD) emerged victorious in the poor southern region of Calabria and the historically ‘red’ central region of Emilia Romagna.

But there was a collapse in turnout on Sunday, which, said Reuters, “suggested growing disillusion among many voters”.

While recognising the ‘bad’ turnout, which translated into over 800,000 lost votes in the two regions, Renzi was nevertheless in triumphant mood, boasting in a tweet: “A clear 2-0. 4 regions out of 4 taken from the centre right in 9 months”

He has now secured four regional election wins since taking office in February and was victorious at European elections in May.

But Italians are hurting as he is continues the neo-liberal ‘reforms’ (labour market deregulation and privatisation) and austerity policies of the Berlusconi and Monti governments, amid falling living standards, rising poverty, record high unemployment and debt and an economy now back into its 3rd recession since 2008.

In Emilia Romagna PD candidate Stefano Bonaccini won 49% of the vote with the support of the more left-wing Left Ecology Freedom (SEL) party. However, turnout was just 40%, down from some 65% at the previous election.

In the southern region of Calabria, where results in some areas were still being counted early on Monday, the PD candidate Mario Oliverio had a score of more than 61% with the support of smaller leftist and centrist parties. Turnout was 44% against almost 60% last time.

In Emilia Romagna, the xenophobic Northern League, which campaigned in a right-wing coalition including former prime minister and convicted tax fraud Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, did better than expected, winning nearly 20%, while Forza Italia took 8% That was well ahead of the anti-establishment 5 Star Movement which took 13%.

In Calabria, the right-wing coalition led by Forza Italia came second with almost 24% while the 5-Star Movement took just under five percent.

The 5 star movement emerged as Italy’s largest party in terms of the percentage of the vote in last year’s general elections but has since lost ground to a resurgent PD under the leadership of the former Florence mayor Renzi.

Like the Northern League the party led by comedian-blogger Beppe Grillo has railed against the political ‘caste’ , is strongly anti-Euro – demanding a referendum on Italy’s membership of the European single currency – and has in recent months aped the Northern League’s anti-immigrant rhetoric, although other policies are more progressive, for example on public services.

Working class and younger voters shifted their allegiance from the Left to the Northern League in the 1990s in response to austerity measures designed to prepare Italy for Euro membership and then shifted them again to Grillo when he was emerging as a left alternative to the increasingly right-wing PD.

Renzi appeared to win back at least some of the party’s core electorate and middle’ ground votes, with opinion poll ratings of 40% plus not seen by any party since the days of the now defunct Christian Democrats.

But the abhorrent Northern League may be successfully bouncing back from corruption scandals under new leadership. In this depressing development, the far right party is likely being buoyed by disillusionment with the 5 star movement – and  its right turn and the ineffective parliamentary performance of its 100 odd MPs – and young Renzi – who is increasingly looking like yet another tired old representative of the elite.

About revoltingeurope

Writer on Europe's Left, trade union and social movements @tomgilltweets or @revoltingeurope


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