Italy’s center-left looked set Monday to win a key race in the central Tuscany region – a traditional leftist stronghold -- in a regional vote that is expected to boost the fragile ruling coalition.
The center-left also scored sound victories in the southern Campania and Puglia regions, where its candidates faced fierce battles against their center-right rivals.
As seven out of 20 Italian regions headed to the polls Sunday and Monday, observers warned that a landslide victory of the rightist opposition would have shaken the fractious government headed by Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte.
Tuscany, a leftist bastion for over 50 years, was the game-changer. After a heated race, on Monday evening, the center-left candidate Eugenio Giani was ahead with an eight-point lead over his center-right rival Susanna Ceccardi.
In Puglia, the center-left candidate Michele Emiliano was set to beat his contender Raffaele Fitto with a seven-point lead, early counts showed.
On Sunday and Monday, Italians also voted in mayoral elections across the country and in a nationwide referendum aimed at sharply reducing the size of parliament.
The referendum passed with almost 70% of the votes and was hailed as a political success by the Five Star Movement, the main partner of the ruling coalition together with the center-left Democratic Party (PD).
According to early counts, the right-wing opposition – headed by the League of Matteo Salvini – was set to prevail in the other four voting regions -- Liguria, Marche, Veneto and Valle d'Aosta.
Analysts noted that the success of the center-left in holding on to power in key regions like Tuscany, Campania and Puglia will likely boost the government’s stability, threatened by internal divisions.
"What could have been elections that hammered the coalition government and caused it to break apart have transformed into elections that will allow it to survive," said the Il Corriere della Sera newspaper’s top editor, Luciano Fontana.
The elections’ outcome will also help the Conte government as it works on drafting the 2020 budget law and hammers out details of its much-awaited recovery plan.
Italy is expected to submit a detailed plan to the European Union early next year to obtain 209 billion euros (US$246 billion) in grants and loans earmarked for “fragile countries” to face the heavy economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.