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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Angela Giuffrida in Rome

Sardinia elects leftwing president, in blow to Giorgia Meloni

Alessandra Todde at a press conference after her victory.
Alessandra Todde at a press conference after her victory. Photograph: Fabio Murru/EPA

The Italian prime minister, Giorgia Meloni, has suffered her first regional election setback since taking power after a leftwing candidate was elected president of Sardinia.

Alessandra Todde, a politician with the Five Star Movement (M5S) who was backed by the Democratic party (PD), has become the island’s first female president, narrowly beating Paolo Truzzu, the rightwing candidate chosen by Meloni.

It was the first significant regional victory since 2015 for Italy’s leftwing parties, which have struggled to build a viable opposition to a coalition led by Meloni’s far-right Brothers of Italy.

“The wind is changing, although some people would not have bet on it,” said Elly Schlein, who leads the PD.

The M5S leader and former prime minister, Giuseppe Conte, said: “Sardinia has chosen our Alessandra Todde. The first woman to lead Sardinia. It’s an unforgettable day.”

Todde, an engineer who was born in Sardinia, was deputy industry minister under Mario Draghi’s government. “I am very happy and very proud,” she said. “I believe we can write a page of history for Sardinia.”

The defeat is likely to spark tremors in Meloni’s coalition, which includes Matteo Salvini’s League and Forza Italia, especially in the run-up to the European elections.

Meloni clashed with Salvini over the choice of Truzzu, the mayor of Cagliari, as the candidate for their alliance. Salvini had wanted Sardinia’s incumbent president, Christian Solinas, a League politician who is under investigation for alleged corruption.

Carlo Calenda, who leads the small centrist Azione party, wrote on X: “It’s a lesson we will take into account. The entirely internal collapse of the right is a good sign for the country and for Sardinia, which the League had governed very badly.”

The win will be a boost for the PD, which Schlein has struggled to unite after being elected leader in February last year, in part due to her overtures towards M5S.

Conte said the parties had found the right “playing field” in Sardinia, adding that the alliance arose from “effort and serious confrontation”.

The two parties have also joined forces for regional elections in the Abruzzo region on 10 March.

“Since 2015, the centre-left has not wrested a region from the right,” said Schlein. “Perhaps this path is the right one.”

Meloni’s Brothers of Italy still has a significant lead in national surveys, at 27.7% according to a recent one by pollster SWG, followed by the PD at around 20%.

Meloni is enjoying a prolonged honeymoon in public opinion since taking power in October 2022 and has managed to steer a relatively steady coalition ship. But the once-popular Salvini is fighting for political survival and needs a significant win in June’s European elections. He is counting on achieving this by affiliating with European far-right allies, including Marine Le Pen’s National Rally and Alternative für Deutschland in Germany, while Brothers of Italy is part of a bloc of European conservative parties.

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