Venice local vote delivers blow to Italian PM Renzi

Reuters News
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Posted: Jun 15, 2015 7:11 AM

By Roberto Landucci and Isla Binnie

ROME (Reuters) - Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi's center-left party licked its wounds on Monday after losing a weekend vote for mayor of Venice to a right-wing candidate and being unseated in four other cities.

Luigi Brugnaro, a local businessman heading a center-right alliance that includes former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia party, won around 53 percent of the vote in the northern lagoon city. The PD candidate, Felice Casson, took more than 46 percent, the Interior Ministry said.

Renzi's Democratic Party (PD) won in four of the 12 towns and municipalities, including important races in northern towns Lecco and Mantua, grabbing the latter from the centre-right.

"Defeat in Venice hurts," said PD deputy leader Lorenzo Guerini. It was also painful to lose Arezzo in Tuscany, he said.

"Up-to-date analysis confirms the PD is clearly the first party in Italy, including for number of mayors. But that isn't enough for us to drink a toast tonight," said Guerini.

The result will have no direct impact on national politics. But is unwelcome for Renzi, who is keen to avoid setbacks as he tries to implement an ambitious reform agenda on which he has staked the credibility of his government.

Regional votes last month handed gains to anti-establishment and right-wing parties in a result widely seen as a blow to the premier, despite victories for the PD in five of seven regions.

Sunday's elections, held to settle races that produced no clear winner in a first round on May 31, were overshadowed by a refugee crisis made increasingly tangible to voters by hundreds of African and Syrian migrants camping out in train stations in Rome and Milan.

Italy is struggling to deal with the summertime surge of economic migrants and refugees crossing the Mediterranean. Some 50,000 have arrived in Italy so far in 2015.

The right-wing leader of the Veneto region around Venice and his Northern League party have called vociferously for migrant arrivals to be halted.

In Sicily, where migrants are often brought by emergency services after being rescued from crowded, rickety boats, polling stations remain open until later on Monday.

Overall turnout in the regions counted by Monday morning was slightly less than half. Just 49 percent of Venetians voted, after their previous mayor resigned last year amid a scandal over rigged contracts for the city's flood barrier system.

(Reporting by Isla Binnie and Roberto Landucci; Editing by Larry King)