Salvini's League Leads in Abruzzo Election as Five Star Fades

(Bloomberg) -- The rightist League of Deputy Premier Matteo Salvini emerged at the head of the strongest bloc in elections in Italy’s Abruzzo region, as support for the Five Star Movement tumbled.

The League-led center-right alliance took almost 49 percent, with Salvini’s party the biggest contributor at 28 percent. Five Star, the League’s coalition partner in the national government, scored just 19 percent, the Interior Ministry said on its website. The center-left also had a strong showing with 31 percent.

The result in the mountainous central Italian region, with just 1.2 million voters, was just the latest indication that Five Star’s standing with voters may have already peaked. The party scored twice as high, at 39.8 percent, in Abruzzo in the March general elections, when it garnered more votes nationally than any other party.

For Italy’s quarreling populist allies, Deputy Premiers Salvini and Luigi Di Maio of Five Star, the Abruzzo contest was a milestone head-to-head confrontation, testing their relative strength after eight months of ruling together in an unruly coalition.

Five Star has long since been overtaken by the League in national opinion polls, fueling tensions in the government ahead of European Parliament elections in May.

Ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, part of the center-right bloc along with the small far-right Brothers of Italy party, was quick to reiterate its call for Salvini to ditch Five Star and return to the alliance’s embrace, also at national level.

Five-Year Term

“The coalition of the center-right is the only one which has the strength and the ability to guide this country,” Forza Italia’s Antonio Tajani, who is president of the European Parliament, told newspaper Corriere della Sera. Salvini, however, has repeatedly ruled that out, insisting that the government pact with Five Star will last for its full five-year term.

Salvini and Di Maio, who’ve fought over everything from migration, to security, to an Alpine rail project, put on a show of unity Saturday, as they shared the stage at a meeting of former stakeholders in two liquidated Veneto region banks. The two populists took turns slamming the Bank of Italy and Consob, the financial market regulator, for alleged lax supervision.

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