ROME — Sicilians shunned regional elections to renew the island’s Parliament on Sunday in record numbers, in an unequivocal signal of growing disaffection with Italy’s political class, even as the center-left wrested control from center-right parties that had governed the region since 2000.
A little over 47 percent of Sicily’s eligible voters turned out, a record low, down from 67 percent in the 2008 elections, according to the Electoral Office of the Sicily Region. Another pointer of widespread malaise was the surprising success of the Five Star Movement, a nascent protest group. Headed by Beppe Grillo, a sardonic comedian turned political guru, Five Star has surged in a series of local elections this year on a campaign to overthrow the existing political order. With half the ballots counted, the movement had won about 18 percent of the vote.
Grillo campaigned actively in Sicily, swimming across the channel that separates the island from the rest of Italy, scaling its active volcano, Mount Etna, and drawing thousands of Sicilians to campaign rallies for his derisive standup routines. The party’s candidate, Giancarlo Cancelleri, told Sky News on Monday, “It’s possible that we got many protest votes to give a signal to the political parties.” But he also said low turnout “is always a sign of defeat for politics.”
Though local, the elections were closely watched as a possible harbinger of voter intent in national polls next April, when the main political parties appear poised to implode because of internal dissent.
The low turnout and success of a protest movement suggested that public tolerance of Italy’s political class had dramatically dwindled after a series of corruption scandals that brought down regional leaders in Lazio and Lombardy.
The center-left candidate, Rosario Crocetta, was ahead in the polls at about 30 percent, running on a ballot with a multiparty alliance, while the results dealt a further blow to former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s People of Liberty party, whose candidate, Sebastiano Musumeci, was struggling to reach a little more than 25 percent of the vote.
Crocetta will have to forge alliances with other parties to have enough seats to form a majority.
The results also reflected Sicily’s own problems, including chronic wastefulness and questionable administrative practices. On Monday, the ratings agency Fitch downgraded Sicily’s credit ratings to the lowest rungs above speculative, or junk, grade.
The departing Sicily president, Raffaele Lombardo, who belongs to the Movement for Autonomy — which calls on Sicily to secede from Italy — and is under investigation on reported Mafia ties, resigned in July as the region struggled to balance its books. He denies the accusations and has not been formally charged.
Sunday’s vote boded badly for Berlusconi’s chosen successor in the People of Liberty party, Angelino Alfano, a Sicilian lawmaker who had largely staked his reputation on the outcome.