Posted on March 31, 2010

Anti-Immigrant Support Rises as Italian Far Right Makes Big Gains in Poll

John Hooper, Guardian (London), March 30, 2010

Final results from Italy’s regional and local elections have confirmed a surge in support for the anti-immigrant right, mirroring similar gains recently seen in the Netherlands and France.

With Silvio Berlusconi and his allies taking four regional governorships from the left, Umberto Bossi’s Northern League has emerged as the undisputed winner. The League was expected to take 13% of the national vote, up from 8% at the last general election in 2008 when it used a poster of white sheep kicking out a black one.

Bossi’s party won two important governorships–Piedmont, the region around Turin, and the Veneto. In the Veneto it received a 10% higher share than the prime minister’s Freedom People movement.

The League also continued its expansion into areas outside its Po valley homeland. In “red” Emilia-Romagna it won almost 14%.

The party’s success fitted an emerging pattern. Earlier this month the Dutch far-right leader Geert Wilders, who has compared the Qur’an to Hitler’s Mein Kampf, made big gains in local elections. In France Jean-Marie Le Pen’s National Front won nearly 10% of the vote in regional ballots.

The League’s platform in the campaign leading up to the Italian poll on Sunday and Monday was less overtly racist than the NF’s or that of Wilders’ Party for Freedom. But Bossi’s party is in government and, with control of the interior ministry, it has been able to implement many of the policies it sought to introduce, including the turning back of would-be clandestine immigrants at sea and the setting up of “centres for identification and expulsion”.

Welcoming the results, Bossi called his party “unchained”. He gave a hint of what that could mean when he clashed with another minister, loyal to Berlusconi, after declaring that he wanted a Leaguer to be the next mayor of Milan. There was another spat after Berlusconi’s public sector minister, Renato Brunetta, was defeated in a bid to become mayor of Venice. He said “friendly fire” from Bossi’s followers had brought him to grief.

In the main election the governorships of 13 of the country’s 20 regions were up for grabs. Six went to the right and seven to the left–a relative victory for Berlusconi, who entered the campaign handicapped by the economic crisis and the rank incompetence of his own officials who failed to submit on time the list of his party’s candidates in the key region of Lazio.

Berlusconi, who controls a daily newspaper, a weekly news magazine and three television channels, said he had survived a “terrible campaign of slander and defamation”. He added: “Once again, love has conquered envy and hate.”

He said the result would enable his government to enact “the reforms necessary for the modernisation and development of our country”. The reform at the top of his agenda before the poll was an overhaul of the judiciary intended to draw the claws of the prosecutors who have been trying to put him in jail for more than 20 years.