Italy’s League Dominates Umbria Vote as Salvini Flexes Muscles

Chiara Albanese and Tommaso Ebhardt

(Bloomberg) -- The anti-migrant League was the clear winner in a regional election in Umbria Sunday, signaling that Matteo Salvini’s party still has the political momentum in Italy despite losing a power struggle in Rome over the summer.

The League got 58% of the votes in the regional ballot, more than 20 percentage points more than the candidate fielded jointly by the coalition governing at national level. It was the first time coalition partners Five Star and the Democrats had fielded a joint candidate and the result offered a clue to the price they’ll pay for the unexpected alliance that thwarted Salvini’s attempt to take power in August.

Italian bonds dropped, with the yield on 10-year debt rising 3 basis points to 0.98% at 9:55 a.m. in Rome.

The blow was particularly strong for Luigi Di Maio’s Five Star Movement, which was Italy’s biggest party in last year’s general election. Five Star got just 7% of votes, raising questions over the future of the party and of its role in the national coalition. Five Star won 27.5% of the vote in Umbria region in the general election last year.

Emilia Romagna, a bigger, wealthy region that includes the cities of Bologna and Parma, votes at the end of January, and it’s unclear whether the two parties will repeat the experiment of a joint candidate.

League leader Salvini, the former Five Star former ally who triggered an unexpected government crisis over the summer, was quick to state that the government’s days are numbered.

“This is a confirmation that the League is the first party in this country,” Salvini said in a news conference. “If we voted across the whole of Italy, the results would be the same.”

National support for the League rose to 34% on Oct. 21 in an SWG poll, compared with 33.2% a week earlier.

"Salvini has regained momentum, lots of it," said Francesco Galietti, a political analyst and founder of consultancy Policy Sonar. "A blatant humiliation for Five Star."

Five Star’s Di Maio didn’t immediately comment the results, while Democrat leader Nicola Zingaretti, whose party got 22% of the votes, in line with national polls, acknowledged the defeat of his candidate.

"We will think a lot about this vote and about the decisions we have to take next," he said, adding that a public debate over next year’s budget plans hurt the candidate.

Umbria, a region known for olive oil and agriculture with fewer than 1 million inhabitants, has traditionally been governed by center-left parties. Their popularity took a hit before the election from a series of health-care scandals involving the Democratic Party administration.

(Updates with bonds in third paragraph.)

--With assistance from Daniele Lepido.

To contact the reporters on this story: Chiara Albanese in Rome at calbanese10@bloomberg.net;Tommaso Ebhardt in Milan at tebhardt@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Chad Thomas at cthomas16@bloomberg.net, Ross Larsen, Ben Sills

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