Italy's Meloni triumphs in regional votes, strengthens grip on power

Italy's PM Meloni holds news conference in Rome
Italy's Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni holds news conference in Rome, Italy, December 29, 2022. REUTERS/Guglielmo Mangiapane
  • Ruling coalition triumphs in Italy's biggest two regions
  • Victory gives conservative bloc huge power network
  • Meloni says vote reinforces her 4-month-old government

ROME, Feb 13 (Reuters) - Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni and her coalition allies secured emphatic election wins in the two wealthiest regions of the country on Monday, strengthening the right's grip on power amid growing voter apathy.

Less than five months after sweeping to power at the national level, the conservative bloc took more than 55% of the vote in Lombardy, home to the financial capital Milan, and around 50% in Lazio, which is centred on Rome.

"This result consolidates the centre-right and strengthens the work of the government," Meloni wrote on Twitter.

It was the first electoral test for Meloni since she won power last September and confirmed that she is still enjoying a strong honeymoon with voters, helped by a weak opposition that failed to present a unified front in either region.

However, the resounding victory was partially overshadowed by the fact that only 40% of people cast a ballot -- the lowest turnout ever recorded for Lazio and Lombardy, which together account for just over a quarter of the Italian population.

"It is unfortunate that the turnout was very, very low. We must try to rebuild the relationship between citizens and institutions," Fabio Rampelli, a senior member of Meloni's Brothers of Italy party, told RAI television.

While the right already controlled Lombardy, they grabbed Lazio from the centre-left, meaning conservatives now run 15 of Italy's 20 regions as well as central government, giving it a unique opportunity to shape domestic politics.

Brothers of Italy confirmed its position as the most popular party in the country, winning an estimated 33% backing in Lazio and 26% in Lombardy -- in line with the 2022 general election.

However, fears inside the coalition that support might crumble for Meloni's two main partners proved unfounded. Matteo Salvini's League strengthened its standing in its Lombardy heartlands while Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia easily outpaced centrist rivals who had courted its supporters.

The result offered no comfort to the centre-left camp, comprising the Democratic Party (PD), the 5-Star Movement and so-called Third Pole, which is riven by mutual loathing.

"We hope that this result finally shows 5-Star and the Third Pole that the opposition should be directed against the government and not the PD," said PD leader Enrico Letta.

Italy's electoral laws at both a national and regional level favour parties that combine forces meaning Meloni's opponents face years in the wilderness unless they learn to work together.

Reporting by Crispian Balmer and Angelo Amante; Editing by Gavin Jones and Hugh Lawson

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