Berlin and Rome, once the two Axis capitals, coincidentally both went to the polls for regional elections last Sunday. Both saw a pronounced swing to the right.
Berlin was the more straightforward case, although the process of getting there wasn’t. The election was a re-run ordered by the state constitutional court; it was originally held in September 2021, in conjunction with the German federal election. But it was plagued by logistical problems to such an extent that the court eventually decided there was no alternative to throwing out the whole result and starting again.
The previous version had seen the incumbent left-wing coalition government – consisting of Social Democrats (SPD), Greens and Left – returned with a slightly increased majority (92 seats out of 147). The gains mostly went to the Greens, who were up 3.7% to become the second-largest party in the state parliament, behind the SPD. In opposition were the Christian Democrats (CDU) with 30 seats, the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) with 13 and the Liberal FDP with 12. AfD was the biggest loser, dropping more than six points.
On Sunday, the big shift was to the CDU, which became easily the largest party, picking up more than ten points to go to 28.2% and 52 seats (in a slightly larger parliament, 159 seats, due to overhang). The swing continues the trend in the CDU’s favor over the last year or so, since its record low in the last federal election. Some of it came at the expense of the Liberals, who dropped to 4.6%, below the threshold, and lost all their seats. AfD recovered only slightly, gaining 1.1% and four seats.
The three governing parties lost 5.3% between them, but there was some drama in their relative standing. SPD and Left each lost two seats while the Greens picked up two – putting them equal with the SPD at 34 seats each, trailing it by just 105 votes. It’s expected that the three will re-form their coalition; the fact that both SPD and Greens now have the option of defecting and forming a majority with just the CDU may add some tension to the bargaining process.
Also on Sunday, but extending into Monday as well, was the election in Lazio (Latium), the region that includes Rome. There too the incumbent government was from the left, although it lacked an actual majority: the centre-left coalition had won 25 of the 51 seats at the last election, in 2018, against 15 for the right-of-centre coalition, ten for the populist Five-Stars and one independent. Its candidate for premier (elected on a separate first-past-the-post ballot), Nicola Zingaretti, won narrowly with 32.9% to the right’s 31.2%, with the Five-Stars not far back on 27.0%.
There was no doubt about the outcome this time. The right took control with a gain of more than 20 points, finishing with 53.9% for premier. The left was almost unchanged on 33.5%, but the Five-Stars’ vote collapsed to just 10.8%. In terms of seats, that will mean 31 for the right, 15 for the left and only six for the populists.
That was impressive enough, but equally striking was the shift within the right. Last time its three main components, the centre-right Forza Italia, the far-right League and the post-Fascist Brothers of Italy, finished in that order but not very far apart: the centre-right had six seats, the League four and the post-Fascists three. But this time Brothers of Italy, the party of new prime minister Giorgia Meloni, streaked ahead: it won 33.6% of the vote on its own, almost double the combined total of the other two, and will have 22 seats against their three each.
Nor was this just a one-off. Lombardy, the northern region centred on Milan, voted at the same time; there the right was already in government with a big majority (49-31), which it retained unchanged. But despite this being the heartland of the League, it was comfortably outvoted by the post-Fascists, 25.2% to 16.5%. Forza Italia was back in single digits, its vote having almost halved. Silvio Berlusconi’s enthusiasm for Vladimir Putin seems not to be popular with voters.
So while Berlin was clearly a boost for the mainstream centre-right, Rome is harder to classify, since there is no party that obviously fits that description. But it appears to be where Meloni wants to take her party, leaving the far-right territory to the League. Whatever she’s doing, the voters are evidently happy with it for now.