Italian right wins Sardinia vote, 5-Star fades

ROME (Reuters) - A right-wing coalition has won a regional vote on the Italian island of Sardinia, in an outcome that could spell trouble ahead for the 5-Star Movement, part of the ruling coalition in Rome, as European Parliament elections loom in May.

FILE PHOTO: Italy's Interior Minister Matteo Salvini gestures as he attends a news conference regarding the return of former leftist guerrilla Cesare Battisti, in Rome, Italy, January 14, 2019. REUTERS/Remo Casilli/File Photo

According to a projection after some 80 percent of the vote had been counted, Christian Solinas, the candidate from the rightwing bloc, had won around 48 percent in Sunday’s election for regional governor, well ahead of the incumbent center-left on 33 percent.

The candidate for the populist 5-Star -- which won 42.5 percent of the vote in Sardinia in the national election a year ago that catapulted it into government -- won just 11 percent.

The center-left candidate, Massimo Zedda, conceded defeat.

The winner Solinas is a senator from the League, the far-right party that rules at the national level in coalition with 5-Star. In regional elections, the League fields candidates as part of an alliance with rightist and center-right parties.

Sardinia is the sixth consecutive region or province to pass from the center-left to the right since the center-left Democratic Party (PD) was ousted from power at a national election in March, underscoring the PD’s ongoing crisis.

It also highlights the declining fortunes of 5-Star, although the party, which has never won power in any of the country’s 20 regions and traditionally fares much better in national ballots, played down the importance of the result. It suffered a similar reversal this month in the region of Abruzzo.

On Monday 5-Star leader Luigi Di Maio, League leader Matteo Salvini and Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte were all quick to rule out any repercussions on the government in Rome.

“We must not over-emphasize a regional election,” Conte, who is non-partisan but closer to 5-Star, told reporters on the sidelines of a summit in Egypt. “I don’t believe the results could have any consequences for the national government.”

Di Maio said: “Nothing changes for the government.”

The 5-Star chief has said he will soon unveil plans to re-organize the party, including scrapping the policy of always running alone at local elections.

These are normally won by broad coalitions including numerous so-called “civic lists” which represent local interest groups. In Sardinia there were so many of these that no single party won more than 13 percent of the vote.

The national coalition in Rome has appeared increasingly fractured in recent weeks, with disagreements between the League and 5-Star bubbling up over a series of issues, including the construction of an Alpine tunnel and which side to support in Venezuela’s political crisis.

May’s European Parliament election is widely seen as a test that could affect the balance of power in the government.

Additional reporting by Gavin Jones and Angelo Amante, editing by Crispian Balmer, Gareth Jones and Peter Graff