Democratic Party head Pier Luigi Bersani, whose party leads in opinion polls, won the first round of a primary in his bid to succeed Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti in elections next year.
Bersani won 44.6 percent, compared to 36.6 percent for Florence Mayor Matteo Renzi, the closest of the four candidates who were vying to lead a coalition of center-left parties in elections due by May, with about 40 percent of votes counted. As Bersani, 61, failed to win more than half of the vote, he will face Renzi in a second round on Dec. 2.
Bersani, a career politician who has led the party since 2009, is trying to head off an insurgency by Renzi, 37, who has blamed party leaders for contributing to Italy’s dysfunctional political system and economic stagnation. He’s campaigned for a new generation to take over.
Monti, who was appointed prime minister a year ago, has said he won’t seek another term. Bersani’s party, which supports the government, led former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s People of Liberty by more than 10 percentage points in recent polls. Bersani is looking to eliminate Renzi decisively in the second round so he can concentrate on the general election, where his biggest challenge comes from the anti-austerity Five Star Movement, which has surged in polling.
“With the PD likely to be the most voted party next year, those voting today are likely choosing Italy’s next prime minister,” said Roberto D’Alimonte, a professor of politics at Luiss University, said before the vote.
Support for the Democratic Party has risen from 23.2 percent in June to 26.7 percent this month, according to polls by the SWG Institute published Nov. 23. That compares with the 21.1 percent for the Five-Star Movement, led by comedian-turned-politician Beppe Grillo. Berlusconi, whose party had 15.3 percent, said yesterday he’s mulling a comeback. Last month, he announced he would step back from the limelight and not run for prime minister in elections next year.
“The People of Liberty party has suffered a decline in its image and in polls for the simple reason that I was absent,” Berlusconi told reporters yesterday. The party’s secretary Angelino Alfano said the party primaries scheduled for Dec. 16 to replace Berlusconi as leader “don’t make much sense” with his return. Both comments were broadcast on SkyTG24 news channel. Berlusconi may announce a new political party by Nov. 29, Il Giornale, owned by the Berlusconi family, reported today.
Renzi, a former boy scout known as the “scrapper” because he wants to kick out the party’s old guard, has toured Italy in a camper van, playing the youth card against Bersani, a former communist who won his first election almost 20 years ago.
“While the others were already in parliament, we were still in nursery school,” he said in launching his campaign on Sept. 13. “We need to change the next 25 years, the future of our children. Our challenge today is to restore hope in the future.”
Also in the primary race were Nichi Vendola, head of the Left, Ecology and Freedom party, which would get 5.3 percent support in the national elections, according to SWG. The remaining candidates were Bruno Tabacci, a Christian Democrat and former deputy head of the Parliament’s budget committee, and Laura Puppato, a regional politician from the Veneto region.
Vendola got 14.7 percent, while Puppato got 2.95 percent and Tabacci 1.2 percent, according to preliminary figures.