Italy's Meloni loses control of Sardinia in election defeat

Italy's Meloni loses control of Sardinia in election defeat


Italy's Meloni loses control of Sardinia in election defeat

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ROME (Reuters) – Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni suffered her first significant electoral setback since taking office in 2022, results showed on Tuesday, with her rightist bloc losing power on the Mediterranean island of Sardinia.

Alessandra Todde, a member of the left-leaning 5-Star Movement who was backed by the Democratic Party (PD), won 45.4% of the vote at Sunday's election, edging out Paolo Truzzu, a candidate handpicked by Meloni, who took 45.0%.

With a handful of ballots still to count, Truzzu conceded defeat while Todde celebrated victory alongside PD chief Elly Schlein and former Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, who heads the 5-Star. "The winds are changing," Schlein said.

Todde, a former industry undersecretary and a successful businesswoman, will be the first female president of the island and the first president of any region from the 5-Star Movement.

It was also the first time the centre-left had managed to flip a region since 2015, giving a boost to opposition parties ahead of four more regional ballots slated for 2024 and nationwide elections for the European parliament set for June.

"Sardinia has shattered the myth of Meloni's political invincibility," said Francesco Galietti, founder of the political risk firm Policy Sonar.

Meloni had insisted that the outgoing governor, who was backed by the League, be replaced on the ballot by a politician from her own party, but he proved an unpopular choice.

The prime minister's bloc, including her Brothers of Italy party, the League and Forza Italia, won all four regional elections held in 2023 and still control 14 of Italy's 20 regions.

Polls show the rightist coalition also leads at a national level, but the League is looking increasingly fragile, raising questions about the future of its leader Matteo Salvini.

His party won just 3.7% of the vote in Sardinia against 11.4% in the last regional ballot on the island in 2019.

By contrast Sunday's vote will give hope to the 5-Star and the PD that they can take on the right, at least at the local and regional level, so long as they bury their frequent differences and form a united front.

Sardinia, one of Italy's two main islands, has around 1.44 million adult residents. The turnout was estimated at 52.4%.

The next regional vote in Italy will be in Abruzzo, a central area east of Rome, on March 10, where the PD and 5-Star have again joined forces.

Meloni's Brothers of Italy is leading national opinion polls at around 28%, while the PD has about 20% and 5-Star 16%.