Italy’s Matteo Salvini hopes to end 25 years of centre-Left rule with elections in southern region of Basilicata

Matteo Salvini hopes to end 25 years of centre-Left rule in a southern Italian region when it goes to the polls on Sunday, in the latest test of his Right-wing party’s popularity ahead of European Parliament elections in May.

The League is contesting the elections in Basilicata, a region that occupies the instep of the Italian boot, in alliance with Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party and Brothers of Italy, a small far-Right party.

The under-developed region, which boasts mountains and olive groves, is best known for the ancient town of Matera, where the inhabitants used to live in “sassi”, cave-like dwellings that in recent years have been turned into boutique hotels and restaurants.

Its distinctive landscape and centuries of history earned it the plaudit of being named as one of Europe’s two Capitals of Culture for 2019, along with Plovdiv in Bulgaria.

Mr Salvini, who is interior minister and deputy prime minister as well as head of the League, has been on a roll since Italy’s general election last March. 

Since then he has doubled support for his party from 17 per cent to around 35 per cent.

The party performed strongly in recent regional elections in Abruzzo, Sardinia and Friuli Venezia Giulia, a region in the far north-east of the country.

The election in Basilicata, where the centre-Left has been in power since 1995, is the last regional contest in Italy before the European elections at the end of May.

Half a million people in Basilicata are eligible to vote on Sunday, electing a president and 20 members of the regional council.

“After nearly 30 years, the Left should pack its bags and leave Basilicata,” said Mr Salvini, whose populist rhetoric and crackdown on asylum seekers has been condemned by human rights groups and opposition MPs.

“I believe that the message that will emerge from Basilicata will be the latest confirmation of the need for change in the way this country is governed.”

Opinion polls show the centre-Right alliance ahead with 29 per cent, with the centre-Left on 26 per cent and the Five Star Movement on 16 per cent – a dramatic fall from the 44 per cent that Five Star won in Basilicata during the general election last year.

While the League and Five Star govern together in a coalition at national level, they contest regional elections separately.

Five Star, which triumphed at the general election last year, has since seen its support eroded and performed poorly in the last few regional elections.

The centre-Right’s candidate, Vito Bardi, is a former general in the Guardia di Finanza, Italy’s customs and border police force.

The candidate for the centre-Left, Carlo Trerotola, is a pharmacist from the city of Potenza, while Five Star’s candidate, Antonio Mattia, is a businessman.

Five Star has been overshadowed by The League since the two very different parties formed a coalition last June.

They have clashed on a range of issues, from cracking down on migrants crossing the Mediterranean to big infrastructure projects such as a stalled high-speed rail link that is supposed to run beneath the Alps, linking Turin with Lyon.