Bersani victory radically alters landscape in Italy


ANALYSIS:The Italian political landscape has changed radically in the wake of the emphatic victory of Democratic Party (PD) leader Pierluigi Bersani in the weekend’s run-off primary contest to elect the party’s candidate for prime minister at next spring’s general election.

The return to the fray of former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi and the increasing improbability that current technocrat prime minister Mario Monti will be nominated for a second term of office are but two of the most intriguing possibilities engendered by Mr Bersani’s win.

In defeating his 37-year-old reformist rival, mayor of Florence Matteo Renzi, by an imposing 60-40 margin, Mr Bersani in one weekend has seen his profile change from that of the faithful but uninspiring PD party secretary to that of a convincing centre-left leader.

Even the Vatican daily, L’Osservatore Romano, a historic critic of the former Communist Party, highlighted Mr Bersani’s victory, pointing out how in his victory speech on Sunday night he had said it was important not to win the forthcoming elections “at any price, recounting fairy tales and nonsense to Italians”.

L’Osservatore commented: “This is a vital consideration both for the party and the country. It is absolutely necessary that the election programmes proposed by the parties to get Italy out of its current crisis contain a strong dose of realism . . .”

Many commentators point out that Mr Bersani comes out of these primaries as a much stronger leader, whose credentials for leading the country have been emphatically legitimised. Typical was this comment from Rome daily La Repubblica: “Out of these primaries comes a strong leader who has been legitimised by the votes of three million Italians who believe in democracy and who crave good politics.”

Given the current disarray in the confused ranks of the centre-right, Mr Bersani is now favourite to win a general election contest that could come as early as February 2013. If he and the PDs win with any level of conviction, then it seems highly improbable that the technocrat, non-elected Monti government could be asked to stay on in its current emergency caretaker role. At best, Mr Monti might be offered a cabinet post in a future Bersani government.

Return for Berlusconi?

As for the centre-right’s most charismatic figure, Mr Berlusconi, many think he may now return to the fray.

By all accounts, he had been reluctant to do electoral battle with someone half his age, namely beaten primary candidate Matteo Renzi. In contrast, he points out that Mr Bersani has been in politics longer than he, and so he feels more than entitled to throw his hat into the ring. As of last night, however, there was no clear line from the centre-right camp on who would be leading them into the elections.