Centre-left wins Rome, main prize in Italy local vote

Rome (AFP) –


Romans have elected a centre-left former economy minister as their next mayor, rejecting by a large margin a right-wing contender dogged by accusations of anti-Semitism, near final results showed Monday.

With counting complete in more than 92 percent of polling stations, Roberto Gualtieri was leading with more than 60 percent over Enrico Michetti, a lawyer and local talk radio host with no prior political experience.

"The result is clear cut. I wish good luck to Roberto Gualtieri," the loser of the second-round run-off vote said in a concession statement.

Gualtieri, 55, is seen as a safe pair of hands.

A trained historian whose only known extravagance is a love for playing Brazilian music on the guitar, he served in government during 2019-2021, and was previously head of the European Parliament's economic affairs committee.

His victory marked another setback for Italy's right-wing bloc, which despite leading in national opinion polls, lost other key mayoral battles in a first round of local elections two weeks ago -- namely in Milan, Naples and Bologna.

A choice of lacklustre candidates and divisions due to the internal rivalry between Matteo Salvini of the nationalist League and Giorgia Meloni of the hard-right Brothers of Italy were offered as explanations for the bloc's poor showing.

"I think we have to recognise that the centre-right has been defeated," Meloni said. "We are all aware of it."

Analysts do not expect the result of the two rounds of local voting to destabilise Prime Minister Mario Draghi's government, which is backed by a left-right coalition including the League but not FDI.

On Monday, the centre-left also won Turin, Italy's automotive capital in the north west. Both Rome and Turin were previously run by the formerly anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S), which suffered a rout.

Aside from the capital, more than 60 towns and cities held mayoral elections between Sunday and Monday. Turnout was very low at under 44 per cent, and analysts said it was mostly centre-right voters who stayed away.

In the Eternal City, the campaign was dominated by complaints about its state of disrepair, including old buses that catch fire due to lack of maintenance and piles of uncollected rubbish in the streets that attract wild boars and rats.

"Rome cannot resign itself to talking about just rubbish and potholes. Rome is a great European capital," Gualtieri said at his closing rally on Friday.

Michetti's campaign was derailed last week when he was forced to deny accusations of anti-Semitism over an article he wrote last year that was unearthed by a left-wing newspaper.

In it, he said the Holocaust was commemorated more than other massacres because the Jews "control banks and a lobby capable of deciding the fate of the planet".

Michetti, who describes himself as a moderate, had also previously suggested that the stiff-armed Roman salute -- commonly used by fascists -- should be used during the coronavirus pandemic because it was more hygienic.