The elections in Italy - the runners and riders
by Pietro Battistella
Italian politicians are all working to build leadership platforms, find alliances and define campaign issues – but things are far from clear
National elections will be held, at the latest next April, and Italian politicians are attempting to get ready. Parties, movements and personalities are all working to build leaderships, find alliances and define campaign issues. A growing discussion is focused on the Democratic Party's internal as well as external fights. Founded in 2007, and heir of the Italian major leftist traditions, the Democratic Party or PD is favoured in the polls for the upcoming elections; achieving about 27 per cent of the vote share.
But no matter how you work out the electoral maths, it is a percentage not sufficient to form a stable government. That is why the PD - led by its secretary Pierluigi Bersani, who served as minister of infrastructures under Romano Prodi's 2006-2008 administration - is exerting itself to form alliances. At things are, the PD is drawing closer to the Left, Ecology and Freedom or SEL - a new party that according to current polls accounts for 7 or 8 per cent of the votes. And SEL leader Nichi Vendola is the governor of Puglia region, a strong opponent of Mario Monti's government; and an advocate of neoliberal issues such as civil and labour rights. He himself is openly homosexual and has stated his will to get married. His movement is closer to the more radical trade unions.
But, still, the left is not sufficient to win the Italian consensus in these troubled times. Therefore, PD is looking also to the centre of the political spectrum: the Christian democrat party Union of the Centre or UDC, a desirable ally. Its leader, the former speaker of the Chamber of Deputies Pierferdinando Casini is the strongest advocate of Monti's government. His electorate is mostly Catholic and conservative and always guarantees a sound 6 or 7 per cent.
An easy cohabitation of these two elements - the former leftist and neoliberal, the latter centrist and conservative - in a future coalition appears unlikely to Italians though, causing turbulence among the democrats. But a game-changer could overhaul the PD platform and strategies, making all the quarrels about alliances outdated and causing havoc in the party establishment. His name is Matteo Renzi, the 37-years-old mayor of Florence, who is increasingly and loudly challenging the leadership of Pierluigi Bersani.
Advocate of the outright renewal of the political class, Renzi went against the Democratic establishment in running for mayor in 2009 - gaining his appellation of 'Scraper'. He will face Bersani in the democratic primaries, even though it is not set yet when they should take place and with what rules. But Renzi is just launching its campaign this Tuesday from Verona, starting off a trip that will touch all Italian provinces with a caravan. Last week he also went to America for the Democratic convention that formally nominated Barack Obama in the presidential elections.
A big supporter of the 'Agenda Monti' - the set of reforms carried by the technocrat administration from public spending cuts to liberalisation, innovation in public administration and flexibility in the labour market - Renzi has outstanding communication skills and the enviable support of a large network of local administrators. Besides, he appears to collect consensus also among centre-right voters: an uncommon feature for a PD representative. "Renzi would be a foe hard to beat. Fortunately, it will be the left to eliminate him," Guido Crosetto, a top representative of the centre-right People of Freedom said recently.
Pietro Battistella is an Italian journalist
Nichi Vendola "an advocate of neoliberal issues such as civil and labour rights"? I think the author means the opposite - anti-neoliberal (hopefully). Neoliberals tend not to support labour rights.
Jeremy Smith - London, UK