Italy's left claims victory in battle with far-right for Tuscany
The far-right looked set to lose a fierce battle for the left-wing bastion of Tuscany in Italy's regional elections Monday, in a ballot that had risked weakening an already fragile national government.
Experts had warned a flurry of far-right victories in the elections in seven regions could further fracture the brittle national governing coalition of the centre-left Democratic Party (PD) and its ruling partner, the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S).
But with the PD's Giani celebrating and the far-right candidate from Matteo Salvini's League party sending him a congratulatory SMS, the far-right looked to have failed in its most ambitious attempt.
The two-day vote went ahead despite a threatened resurgence of the coronavirus in Italy, which was the first country in Europe to go into lockdown and is now registering more than 1,500 new cases daily.
Ballots were cast nationwide for a referendum on cutting parliament numbers, which was set to pass easily, with an exit poll by Rai national broadcaster predicting around 69 percent for the "yes" vote.
But all eyes were on elections held at the same time in seven regions: Campania, Liguria, Marche, Puglia, Tuscany, Valle d'Aosta and Veneto.
'Stopped in his tracks'
Giani looked set to take over 47 percent of votes in Tuscany, compared to 40 percent for the League party's Susanna Ceccardi, an MEP who has adopted Salvini's "Italians first" mantra.
"Salvini has been stopped in his tracks. The Tuscans did not fall for his propaganda," Simona Bonafe, the PD's party leader in Tuscany, was quoted as saying by Florence-based newspaper La Nazione.
The left also appeared to have quashed a bid by the coalition of Salvini's League, Giorgia Meloni's far-right Brothers of Italy and Silvio Berlusconi's centre-right Forza Italia to snatch neighbouring Puglia.
And it was set to easily hold Campania in the south.
The right was expected to triumph instead in its strongholds of Veneto and Liguria, as well as taking the Marche.
"What could have been elections that hammered the coalition government, that caused it to break apart, have transformed into elections that will allow it to survive and stay the course," the Corriere della Sera's editor in chief Luciano Fontana said.
A win in Tuscany would have bolstered the right's claim that the uneasy coalition -- not elected, but installed after the previous government collapsed -- was politically weak, and Italy's president should bring forward the 2023 national election.
The PD only narrowly frustrated a League bid in January to take Emilia Romagna, one of its biggest strongholds.
Ceccardi, 33, was until recently known only to the inhabitants of Casina, a porticoed town near Pisa, which was the first to turn to the League when she was elected mayor four years ago.
Since then, Renaissance art cities from Pisa to Siena have flipped to the right.
But the region has no glaring problems to drive a protest vote -- the health system has performed well during the Covid-19 pandemic, immigrants are well integrated, and the quality of life is high, political journalist Raffaele Palumbo told AFP.
Roberto Bianchi, contemporary history professor at Florence University, said the right has long tried to woo Tuscany -- to little effect.
"In 2000, a frustrated Berlusconi even launched a campaign to 'de-Tuscanise Tuscany'. It was a disaster," he said