(Last Updated On: October 28, 2019)

By Giselda Vagnoni

ROME (Reuters) – A right-wing coalition is set for victory in an election on Sunday in the central Italian region of Umbria, according to an exit poll, giving a boost to Matteo Salvini’s League party.

The vote in tiny Umbria, a traditional centre-left stronghold with less than 900,000 inhabitants, restores impetus to Salvini after his political blunder that saw the League lose power nationally this summer.

The hard-right leader walked out of government with the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement in August, expecting to trigger a national election that polls predicted he would win.

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Instead, 5-Star hooked up with the centre-left Democratic Party (PD), shunting Salvini into opposition.

In Umbria, the new 5-Star/PD alliance appears to have failed its first electoral test.

Donatella Tesei, backed by the League, the far-right Brothers of Italy and former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, will be elected governor with 56.5 to 60.5% of the vote, according to an exit poll for state broadcaster RAI.

Vincenzo Bianconi, leader of a civic alliance backed by 5-Star and the PD, will get 35.5 to 39.5%, while Claudio Ricci, a right-wing independent candidate, is seen at 1.5 to 4.5%.

The League chief had criss-crossed landlocked Umbria for weeks, promoting his national pledge to introduce a flat-tax rate many economists say Italy cannot afford, but which the League insists is needed to revive the sluggish economy.

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His message found fertile ground in Umbria, where output slumped 15.6% in the decade after the 2007 financial crisis, compared with a 5.2% slide across Italy, according to Bank of Italy data.

Umbria marks the eighth straight victory for the centre-right in regional ballots since the last national election in March 2018.

More important tests lie ahead that could potentially undermine the new national government.

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In December, the poor southern region of Calabria goes to the polls and it will be the turn on Jan. 26 of Emilia Romagna, a northern region with more than four times the population of Umbria and which is the historic heartland of Italy’s left.

Opinion polls show the League, with its anti-migrant, anti-tax message, has shed little support since it lost power nationally, and remains easily Italy’s most popular party, with around 30% of the vote.

(Reporting by Giselda Vagnoni; Writing by Gavin Jones; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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