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Italy’s major opposition party hoping for a new lease on life PDF Print E-mail
Oct 31, 2012 at 05:21 PM

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The Partito Democratico, Italy's major opposition party, is hoping that next year's elections will bring it back to power. The PD, as it is called, is feeling greatly encouraged by the election in Sicily this past weekend that elected its candidate, Rosario Crocetta, to be the new President of the Sicilian Region. Equally encouraging was that in same election, the PD's primary opponent, Berlusconi's PdL, saw its share of the vote plummet to only 12 percent from 33.5 percent only four years ago.

Never mind that Crocetta did not get enough of the vote to form a government without allying himself with another of the island's political parties. Never mind that his predecessor, Raffaele Lombardo, who resigned last year after being accused of collusion with the Mafia and one of whose principal backers was the PdL, was elected President four years ago with 66% of the vote. Crocetta's victory is still seen by the country's major center-left party as an excellent sign.

But it is not going to be enough. The PD, which over the last 30 years has gone through a remarkable and seemingly unending series of name changes and transformations, is the heir - but many times removed - of the powerful postwar communist party and has gradually morphed into a left-of-center group that has absorbed former communists, socialists, social democrats and liberal catholics. But because of this mix, it still has to find a true identity. It was last in power in January 2008 when it was part of the Ulivo coalition headed by then premier Romano Prodi.

The PD's leader, or "segretario" as the Italian say, has changed several times over the last four years and the current head, Luigi Bersani, is to face a major challenge in primaries scheduled for November 25th. Keep in mind that these primaries have little to do with the kind we have in the U.S. but are more like popularity contests in which to vote all you have to do is pay two euro and sign a sort of affidavit (but not binding) saying you support the party's objectives. A recent ruling by the part also decided that even non-Italian, legal residents of Italy, that is, people (like me) who cannot vote in an Italian election because they are not citizens, can vote in the primary, which personally I think is ridiculous.

The biggest challenge to Bersani, 51, a three-time cabinet minister and a former president of the Emilia-Romagna region, is coming from the young, outspoken PD mayor of Florence, Matteo Renzi, 37, who says it is time to "scrap" the party's "old guard" and make a break with the past. So far, only one former party leader, Walter Veltroni, who in the 1990s was mayor of Rome, has taken his advice and announced he will not run again for parliament.
Also running for the post of party leader is the somwhat out-of-the-box president of the Puglia region, Nikki Vendola, who is further to the left than the other two.

Two other candidates, neither of whom are given any real chance to win, are Laura Puppato, a Venetian businesswoman and politician, and Bruno Tabacci, a former Christian Democrat with substantial business and economic experience. The outcome will be interesting as at the very least it will give an idea of how united the party is, or is not.

In December, the PdL is also holding primaries of the same type, ostensibly to replace Silvio Berlusconi has head of the party and chief candidate for a future government, should the PdL manage (doubtful) to hold on to its current position as Italy's largest political party. But more about that another time.

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