'European Trump' Matteo Salvini Hopes Italy's Emilia-Romagna Election Will Aid His Ascension to Prime Minister

Residents of Emilia-Romagna, Italy's second-wealthiest region and sixth-largest by population, head to the polls on Sunday in a vote that may bolster far-right leader Matteo Salvini's run for prime minister.

Salvini threatened to "evict" national leaders if his League party triumphs in the regional elections, breaking the country's campaign silence laws.

"The elections in Emilia could mark an inflection point in Salvini's rise in Italian politics," Nathalie Tocci, director of the Italian Institute of International Affairs, told Newsweek, "not because the of the significance of the vote itself, but for the forces it may unleash within the governing coalition."

Opponents hope to prevent Salvini, dubbed the "European Trump", and behind whom the country has rallied thanks to his nationalistic anti-migration and anti-European Union rhetoric, from seizing power.

Tocci added: "Stars in Italian politics rise and fall at an astounding pace, and Salvini is unlikely to be an exception."

Still, many Italians expect he will one day become prime minister. Sunday's vote is a step towards achieving that end and furthering the trend across Europe toward far-right leadership.

"Traditionally, the Emilia-Romagna was a safe region for the left, so actually it didn't attract a lot of attention in the past, because people took it for granted," Davide Vampa, a lecturer in politics at Aston University, told Euronews.

"But this time, it seems that the race is very close and the center-right, which is dominated by Salvini, could win the election. That's why it's so, so important. It's a symbol for the center-left and if they lose on Sunday, that's a political earthquake."

The northern "Red Emilia" region is the birthplace of Ferrari and Parma ham and home to the cities of Bologna and Modena. It is a center-left stronghold that Salvini's League party hopes to flip.

Removed from his position as interior minister in August by Five Star members, Salvini has campaigned across the region for weeks alongside his ally Giorgia Meloni, head of the far-right Brothers of Italy party.

The anti-establishment Five Star movement formed a new governing coalition with the center-left Democratic Party, absent of Salvini's own League party, but the country's malaise persists.

Much of Italy struggles through an ongoing recession and high unemployment, but the opposite is true in the Emilia-Romagna region, where there is a rich culture and a high degree of social care.

If Red Emilia is home to a surge in voter loyalty analysts point to a broader desire for less government interference.

The League's continuing successes have in recent months faced pushback from the "Sardines" movement, which began in Bologna and derived its name from the protestors who packed plazas full while demonstrating against the anti-institution and anti-migrant policies of Salvini.

"I hope that what comes out is a strong desire to keep the right out of Emilia-Romagna," Luisa Volpelli, a Sardine protester, in Bologna told the Associated Press.

"They say we are not doing well, that we are fed up with our government. No, we are one of the regions that is doing the best in Italy. We want to keep out these people that throw mud and tell lies."

Polls conducted earlier this month showed a narrow lead for Lucia Borgonzoni, from Salvini's League party, in the Emilia-Romagna election, ahead by 2 percent of the center-left incumbent, Stefano Bonaccini.

"The victory of the League would certainly be a victory for Salvini, but there is also the reverse: A Bonaccini victory would be a clear national defeat for Salvini," Emiliana De Blasio, a professor of sociology at Rome's LUISS, told Newsweek.

"The Sardines are, in a certain way, the 'sentimental' linkage between the democratic values of the Left and its policy-based campaign"

A definitive result is expected Monday.

The Brothers of Italy, Meloni, and Bonaccini were reached for comment on Sunday but did not return Newsweek's request for comments.

Matteo Salvini League Italy Emilia-Romagna
Leader of Italy's far-right League (Lega) party, Matteo Salvini speaks during a campaign rally with centre-right Senator and regional candidate Lucia Borgonzoni (R) on January 18, 2020 in Maranello, a week ahead of Emilia-Romagna regional vote. ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP via Getty Images