Giuseppe Sala mayor of Milan

A decisive victory after a fortnight of tension.

Giuseppe “Beppe” Sala, the Partito Democratico (PD) candidate for mayor of Milan, won a clear but not resounding victory in Sunday’s run-off contest against his competitor, centre-right Stefano Parisi, with 51.7 against Parisi’s 48.3 per cent – a difference of less than 5,000 votes.

The former CEO of Expo Milan 2015 will thus take over from outgoing mayor Giuliano Pisapia, maintaining the left-wing policy of Palazzo Marino, despite a fortnight of suspense during which the two contenders battled for precedence after the neck-and-neck result of the first ballot on 5 June.

Thanking his supporters as the result was announced, Sala said the victory had been “by no means to be taken for granted. Now we have to pick up our [campaign] programme,” Sala continued, “and try to make sure that Milan gets everything we promised.” Party faithful serenaded him on his arrival at city hall once results were announced, despite the late hour, with a rendition of the partisans’ anthem Bella ciao”.

“But for a handful of votes,” replied a disappointed Parisi, “we might have won. This will be the start of a new programme which won’t stop at today’s result. We shall bring deep changes to politics in Italy,” he concluded.

Commenting on the result, Lega Nord (LN) secretary Matteo Salvini, who had supported Parisi along with Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia and other right-wing parties, said, “Now we have to work out where we went wrong and then start again.” Salvini added that Parisi would be leader of the opposition group in city hall.

The run-off was marred by an apathetic response from voters: although the first round had seen a mere 55 per cent of milanesi go to the polls – continuing a downward tendency of ever deeper dissatisfaction with party politics – the run-off on Sunday drew even fewer: a less than 52 per cent.

The result was not as clear throughout the province. In the comuni around Milan, only Pietro Romano in Rho chalked up a victory for the PD. In the other municipalities, Pioltello went to a centre-left coalition, Corbetto to the centre-right, Nerviano and San Giuliano to the LN, and Peschiera Borromeo to a civic list candidate. The turnout outside the metropolis was in all cases higher than in Milan itself, averaging out across the province at just over 55 per cent.

In national terms, Sala’s victory is no more than a glimmer of consolation for prime minister Matteo Renzi’s PD, which otherwise suffered badly across the country. In all, in the 1,342 cities and towns where mayoral elections were held, Beppe Grillo’s Movimento 5 Stelle (M5S, which still prefers to be called a movement rather than a party) took some 957,000 votes, overtaking the PD’s 954,000, winning revenge for its second place in the 2013 general election, and buoying optimism for a strong result in the next general election, due in 2018 at the latest.

Media attention has focussed on results in Rome and Turin, where in each case the candidate for the M5S won resounding victories.

The disappointing results prompted Renzi to bring forward to Friday a council of party leaders originally planned for next week. Reports started circulating in the media late last week that dissidents within the PD plan to ambush him there with a demand for his resignation.