Italy's Renzi wins regional polls, low turnout sends warning

Italy's Prime Minister Matteo Renzi arrives to meet Spain's King Felipe at the Chigi Palace in Rome November 19, 2014.

ROME - Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi's centre-left Democratic Party (PD) won regional elections in Calabria and Emilia Romagna on Sunday but an exceptionally low turnout suggested growing disillusion among many voters.

Renzi, who has chalked up two other regional election successes since taking office in February and won a record victory in European elections in May, claimed another win, but he acknowledged that large numbers of voters had stayed away.

"The turnout was bad, the results were good. A clear 2-0. 4 regions out of 4 taken from the centre right in 9 months," he said in a tweet on Monday.

However, after years of economic crisis that has created hardship among a growing number of Italians, there were clear warning signs for Renzi, who is facing increased pressure to push through potentially unpopular economic reforms.

In the central region of Emilia Romagna, traditionally a stronghold of the left, the PD candidate Stefano Bonaccini won 49 per cent of the vote with the support of the leftist Left Ecology Freedom (SEL) party. However, turnout was just 40 per cent, down from some 65 per cent at the previous election.

In the southern region of Calabria, where results in some areas were still being counted early on Monday, the PD candidate Mario Oliverio had a score of more than 61 per cent with the support of smaller leftist and centrist parties. Turnout was 44 per cent against almost 60 per cent last time.

In Emilia Romagna, the anti-immigrant, anti-euro Northern League party, which campaigned in a centre-right coalition including former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia, did better than expected, winning nearly 20 per cent of the vote, while Forza Italia took 8 per cent.

That was well ahead of the anti-establishment 5 Star Movement on 13 per cent.

In Calabria, the centre-right coalition led by Forza Italia came second with almost 24 per cent of the vote, while the 5-Star Movement took just under five per cent.