Emilia-Romagna: Will Italy’s left-wing stronghold turn far-right?

In the summer of 1944, the German administration of Nazi-occupied Italy confiscated the lead characters used by all printing houses in the city of Forli, in the northern region of Emilia-Romagna.

Anti-fascist newspapers continued to be printed clandestinely – 16 in the city alone.

A lot of that work, including prints and engravings, is now stored at the Institute of the Resistance and Contemporary History.

This sleepy city of 100,000 has been governed by left-wing parties for about half a century.

Like the region itself, it was considered a left-wing stronghold – until it elected a League mayor last summer.

Alongside the southern region of Calabria, Emilia-Romagna will go to the polls on January 26 to pick a new regional government in elections that have been widely anticipated to usher in a further victory for the League, the far-right party of former interior minister and deputy prime minister Matteo Salvini.

The last published polls have put the League candidate, supported by a right-wing coalition, senator Lucia Borgonzoni, just a couple of points behind the current president of the region, Stefano Bonaccini.

Bonaccini is running with a centre-left list that includes his own Democratic Party (PD) and polls at over 45 percent.

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Not only is Emilia-Romagna the largest and most populous of Italy’s “red regions”, it is also one of the richest in Italy.

Unemployment levels are well below the national average – despite considerable inequality between urban and industrial areas and left-behind villages in the mountain areas.

“Positive economic and social indicators in the areas of welfare, public health and employment levels, in fact, hide a number of issues,” Carlo De Maria, the Institute’s director and a senior researcher in contemporary history at the University of Bologna, told Al Jazeera.

“Take unemployment levels, for example. They may be low, but the quality of work has, in fact, been getting worse. There is more precariousness and uncertainty,” he added.

“Some people can be sceptical of all the talk about good governance and perceive it as untrue, particularly those living in the suburbs or the Apennine.”

The League has been dominating Italian politics since it entered a coalition with the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S) after the 2018 general elections. In a surprise move last summer, Salvini decided to pull the plug on that government, hoping to induce, and win, new elections.

His party had easily won the European elections earlier in May with 34 percent of the vote, more than doubling its share of consensus from the last general election in 2018, when it stood at 17 percent.

Much of the months-long public debate that preceded these local elections has been centred around whether Italy’s EU-approved new coalition government, which includes the centre-left PD and the M5S, can survive a League win in Emilia-Romagna.

The recent resignation of Salvini’s former ally, Luigi di Maio, as head of the M5S prompted fresh speculation. In late 2019, the League bagged a win in another region in Italy’s “red belt”, Umbria.

“I haven’t voted for about 10 years. But this year, I will vote against the PD,” 62-year-old Oronzo Campagna, a pensioner, told Al Jazeera. Campagna says he has voted left all his life, but that he’s tired of seeing “the same old faces”.

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