The first round of the local elections, held last Sunday, gave insight into the national mood. On June 11th, more than nine million Italians voted to elect the mayor in more than 1,000 cities, including four regional capitals (Catanzaro, Genova, L’Aquila and Palermo) and several crucial medium sized towns (such as Parma, Piacenza, Taranto, Padova, Verona and Lecce). Local elections take place in two rounds: the first round includes all parties, if none of them obtains the absolute majority (50%+1 of the vote) the first two parties continue to the second round, which decides the winner (it will be held on June 25th). Municipalities with fewer than 15,000 citizens elect their mayors directly during the first round (the party that obtains the largest number of votes wins).
The most significant outcome of the local elections is undoubtedly a weak performance by Movimento 5 Stelle. Beppe Grillo’s movement did not even make it to the second round in any of the 25 provincial or regional capitals. M5S made it to the second round in ten out of 149 cities with more than 15,000 citizens. In only one case, M5S obtained a majority of the votes (in Carrara, Tuscany). In some cases this weak showing was matched by a strong showing by other candidates. In Parma, for example, the former M5S mayor, now running for re-election as an Independent after a contentious exit from the movement, gained almost 35% of the votes, while the M5S candidate only got 3%.
A second conclusion is the return of a “two-pole system” where the centre-left and centre-right parties dominate the political landscape. An analysis of the results shows that centre-left candidates made it to the second round in 75 cities and won 22 cities in the first round. The centre-right candidates also made it to the second round in a number of cases (78), winning 8 municipalities in the first round on Sunday. It is also interesting to note how the centre-right performed best when the main three parties (Forza Italia, Lega Nord and Fratelli d’Italia) joined forces. It will be interesting to see if the same winning coalition can repeat their success at the national level where there are higher stakes issues on the table.It will be interesting to see how the moderate Forza Italia will be able to find common ground with the more extremists Lega Nord and Fratelli d’Italia over issues such as the Euro or the migrants crisis.
The third significative conclusion that can be drawn from the results of the first round is the growing number and impact of the so called “liste civiche” (civic lists), which are increasingly replacing traditional parties. The civic lists are a peculiarly Italian phenomenon: they are “non-party lists” presented at a local election, which have no official connection with a national political party, and campaign on local issues. They may be totally independent from political parties or linked to them (through participating in an electoral coalition). In the second case, the objective is to gain the vote of people who would not vote for traditional parties but recognize themselves in a specific issue or candidate.
In these local elections, “Civic candidates” won 11 municipalities in the first round and advanced to the second round in 36 cities, an increase with respect to past local elections. According to many observers, this is the result of people’s growing detachment from party politics and growing interest in specific issues or strong and charismatic leaders.
These local elections were the last big election before the legislative elections, which will be held next spring at the latest. Historically, these kinds of election have forecasted national trends that can be observed in the parliamentary race. Though, it is not as easy as it seems to draw conclusions from these results, M5S has always been stronger nationally, where its leader Beppe Grillo can play a role in influencing the voters. Also, M5S, as opposed to other parties, ran alone in all of the municipalities, with no civic lists linked to it and lacked a strong party apparatus on the ground. It will be of extreme interest to follow parties’ next moves and the consequences of this vote on how they approach the upcoming national elections.