A candidate for the far-right Brothers of Italy has ended 25 years of leftwing rule in the eastern Marche region, giving the party its second regional presidency, according to incomplete results.

However, the centre-left managed to retain its stronghold of Tuscany, in what the region’s centre-left candidate Eugenio Giani called “an extraordinary victory”.

As the results came in on Monday night in key Italian regional elections, far-right former interior minister Matteo Salvini admitted: “We knew it would be an extremely difficult fight.”

Polling suggested the race would be extremely tight in Tuscany, a leftwing bastion for over 50 years. “Salvini has been stopped in his tracks. The Tuscans did not fall for his propaganda,” Simona Bonafe, the Democratic party (PD) leader in Tuscany, was quoted as saying by Florence-based newspaper La Nazione.

Brothers of Italy, led by the increasingly popular Giorgia Meloni and part of a coalition led by Salvini’s League and including Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, also ran a close race in Puglia but was maintained by the PD.

Brothers of Italy’s candidate for the regional presidency of Marche, Francesco Acquaroli, was forecast to capture 51.2% of the vote, compared with 35.7% for the centre-left candidate. A win there gives Brothers of Italy, a descendant of a post-fascist party, its second regional seat after Abruzzo.

“[Marche] is an important win for Meloni,” said Mattia Diletti, a politics professor at Rome’s Sapienza university. “Her goal is to lead the coalition and she has understood that it’s more of a marathon than a sprint.”

There was strong voter turnout across the seven regions hosting elections on Sunday and Monday, as well as in a referendum on reducing the number of parliamentarians, which an overwhelming 69% of Italians are projected to have supported. The referendum was backed by the Five Star Movement, the party ruling nationally with the Democratic party.

Salvini’s coalition retained Veneto, with the incumbent leader, Luca Zaia, set for a landslide victory, as well as the Liguria region. The centre-left easily kept Campania, where the popularity of Vincenzo De Luca, the incumbent president, has surged thanks to his handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

The League was also ahead in the small Aosta Valley region, which has its own party system. If the coalition’s wins are confirmed in the final results it would give the group more than half of Italy’s 20 regions, with nine captured from the left within the last few years.

The group is the biggest political force in Italy but its latest successes are unlikely to have too much of an impact on the shaky national coalition led by the prime minister, Giuseppe Conte.

With the PD maintaining Tuscany, Campania and Puglia and the M5S succeeding with the referendum, the outcome of the regional elections could, in fact, help reinforce the coalition, which is currently drafting a spending programme for its €290bn (£266m) share of the European Recovery Fund.

“I think the government will be stable but with some tremors,” added Diletti. “It’s too important for them to be stable in order to have a good relationship with Europe.”



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