Italian populist allies clash in test of ballot box strength

A mural shows Luigi Di Maio and Matteo Salvini in Milan. (AFP pic)

The rightist League of Deputy Premier Matteo Salvini emerged as the strongest party in elections in Italy’s Abruzzo region, well ahead of coalition partner the Five Star Movement, Ansa news agency reported.

The League took 29% of the votes to Five Star’s 18%, Ansa said, citing preliminary results.

Centre-right bloc candidate Marco Marsilio was the expected winner of the race for regional president with 49.5%, while the centre-left also had a strong showing with 32%.

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

Although Sunday’s contest in the mountainous central Italian region involved just 1.2 million voters, Deputy Premiers Salvini of the League and Di Maio of the anti-establishment Five Star campaigned heavily there, as both parties look to European elections in the spring.

The two populists, 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.

Salvini and Di Maio took turns slamming the Bank of Italy and Consob, the financial market regulator, for alleged lax supervision.