(CN) — The conservative and far-right tide in European politics continues to spread, with regional and municipal elections on Sunday and Monday in Spain and Italy resulting in liberal and left-wing parties on the retreat and losing strongholds.
After a bad election night in Spain, Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez on Monday gambled and called snap national elections on July 28.
New Spanish elections were slated to be held by December, but he's calculating early elections may allow his center-left Socialists to consolidate votes on the left after the collapse of support in Sunday's ballot for the far-left Unidas Podemos.
Podemos is the junior partner in Sanchez' government, the most left-wing government since the restoration of democracy in Spain after the Franco dictatorship. Podemos has pushed Sanchez to adopt a progressive agenda, but Podemos has struggled due to internal disagreements and the party recently split.
The big winners in Spain were the center-right Popular Party under the new leadership of Alberto Nunez Feijoo, a moderate, and the far-right Vox. A decade after it was founded, Vox with its ultraconservative, anti-immigrant and nationalist rhetoric has grown into a strong force in Spanish politics and it has begun working in a coalition with the Popular Party to run the Castile and León region. That coalition opened the way for other regional coalitions and even possibly cooperation at the national.
In calling early elections, Sanchez is banking on winning centrist and left-wing voters fearful that the Popular Party will ask Vox to form a national government.
In Italy, Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, the far-right leader of the Brothers of Italy, was triumphant as her candidates and those of her right-wing coalition partners won up and down the peninsula in municipal elections.
It was the first sign of major trouble for Elly Schlein, the new progressive leader of the main opposition Democratic Party.
Schlein, a young bisexual woman from a Jewish family and former staffer for Barack Obama's presidential campaigns, recently won her party's leadership on a message of vehemently opposing the rise of Meloni, Italy's first female leader and its first leader from the country's post-fascist political movements.
Meloni's Brothers of Italy is an anti-immigrant, conservative and nationalist party that has railed against the European Union and campaigns on an “Italy first” message.
Meloni is considered the first far-right leader of a major European nation since the end of World War II and she is hoping to shape politics at the EU level by forming a powerful right-wing bloc in European Parliament elections next year between June 6 and 9.
In Spain, the Popular Party won 31.5% of votes compared with 28.2% for the Socialists. This was a 1.2 percentage point decrease for the Socialists on 2019, but almost a 9-point increase for the PP, which benefited from the collapse of the centrist Citizens party.
The conservatives won in several regions held by the Socialists, including Valencia, Aragon and La Rioja. Six of the 12 regions that voted changed hands.
The Popular Party also took over from the Socialists in numerous cities and towns, including the major centers of Valencia and Seville.
Another big winner was Madrid's president, Isabel Díaz Ayuso, a controversial but popular hard-right member of the Popular Party. She obtained an absolute majority and consolidated her position as a rising leader of Spain's conservatives.
Far-left mayors were defeated in Barcelona and Valencia.
Vox more than doubled its share of local councilors to 7.2%, making it even more likely that the Popular Party will rely on their votes in several regions, including Aragon, the Balearic Islands, Cantabria, Extremadura, Murcia and Valencia.
In Italy, right-wing candidates won five of seven provincial capitals in mayoral run-offs held on Sunday and Monday. The Democratic Party won only one city, Vicenza, and lost Pisa, Siena, Massa, Ancona and Brindisi.
Ancona, the capital of the Marche region, was a major win for those on the right because the city has been run by center-left parties for more than 30 years.
Meloni called the win in Ancona “historic” and said it confirms "the fact that strongholds no longer exist.”
Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.Follow @https://twitter.com/cainburdeau
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