Berlusconi candidate scores stunning Sicily victory

PALERMO -- Centre-right candidate Nello Musumeci won weathervane elections to become Sicilian regional president Monday, garnering 40 percent of the vote compared with 34.6 percent for the radical Five Star Movement (M5S) party candidate Giancarlo Cancellieri, electoral officials said.

 Democratic Party (PD) candidate Fabrizio Micari trailed in third position with a projected 20 percent of the vote. This result is likely to harm the  chances of PD’s Matteo Renzi securing a second term as Italian prime minister in the general election next year. A small consolation for the party is the poor result of the MDP, a left-wing splinter group of the PD, in the Sicilian election.

 Luigi Di Maio of M5S has cancelled a TV debate with Democratic leader Matteo Renzi following the election exit polls, referring to the lack of competition the former prime minister poses to M5S. “The Democratic party is politically deceased, our competitor is no longer Renzi or the Democratic party.”

 M5S has proved popular in Sicily, one of the poorer regions in Italy, as it champions a proposal for establishing basic universal income. Beppe Grillo, the founder of the anti-establishment M5S, has described the choice for Sicilians as “simple: us or them, the future or the past, hope or failure, citizens or traditional parties.”

 However, the success of Musumeci, the Sicilian regional candidate of former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia party, reveals that right-wing sympathies are strong in the region. Musumeci’s victory may foreshadow the success of right-wing parties in Italy's general election.

 The Sicilian election has been seen as test run for next year as issues such as high unemployment rates and slow economic growth are a concern for Sicily as well as Italy. Berlusconi, four-times prime minister at 81 years old, may then see a triumph at the regional level as votes for centre-right parties have surged both in the Sicilian and Ostian elections.  

 Berlusconi was expelled from public office in 2013 following a conviction for tax fraud, but has campaigned openly for his candidate in Sicily, and has been speaking of alliances recently with the Northern League and Brothers of Italy parties. Italy may see Berlusconi making use of the new Rosatellum bill, which encourages coalitions, to gain seats in next year’s election.

 Turnout at the polls was at a record low this year for Sicily, with just 46.8 percent of voters casting a ballot. Thus, abstention was the true winner of the election. In three provinces alone the voter turnout was higher than in 2012, Messina, Catania and Palermo. Overall, the island is down 0.65 percent in voter interest from 2012.