Renzi efforts to avoid Partito Democratico split fail to unify party

Senior figures including Massimo D’Alema not happy with party’s move to the centre

Matteo Renzi: If he wins  party leadership contest,  he may move for a general election in the autumn. Photograph: Angelo Carconi/ANSA via AP

Matteo Renzi: If he wins party leadership contest, he may move for a general election in the autumn. Photograph: Angelo Carconi/ANSA via AP

 

Two days after a tense party assembly, the future of Italy’s centre-left ruling party, the Partito Democratico (PD), is still threatened by a split from disgruntled dissidents.

Sunday’s assembly, which was called by party leader and former prime minister Matteo Renzi, had been expected to clear the air and determine whether the minority leftist dissidence was merely a bluff or a real threat to the party.

The day after the all-day meeting in a hotel in central Rome , the situation remains unclear. At the basis of the ongoing row is a fundamental disagreement between Mr Renzi and senior party figures as to the way forward in the wake of last December’s constitutional reform referendum in which Mr Renzi suffered a 60-40 per cent defeat.

Having resigned as prime minister on the night of the referendum, Mr Renzi also resigned as party secretary last Sunday. This paves the way for a party congress next month, followed by “primaries” to elect a new party leader in May. Confident that a majority of the party still supports him, Mr Renzi will be running for re-election.

Senior party figures, including another former prime minister Massimo D’Alema and former party leaders Pierluigi Bersani and Guglielmo Epifani, are dissatisfied at the manner in which Mr Renzi has handled the post-referendum period.

They argue that not enough attention has been paid to the impact and significance of that defeat while they believe that Mr Renzi’s move to the centre, in terms of the economic, labour, health and educational policies pursued by his three-year-long government, has cost the PD millions of votes.

General election

The dissidents argue that with the PD’s own Paolo Gentiloni currently in the prime minister’s office, this is also the time to reset the party compass, promoting policies which more faithfully reflect the party’s social democratic agenda. In the meantime, they argue that the Gentiloni government should see out the rest of the legislature, though to February next year.

Mr Renzi’s timetable, however, may be much tighter. It is believed that if he wins the party leadership contest, then he may move for a general election in the autumn, with himself as the PD candidate for prime minister.

For the time being, it seems that the anti-Renzi camp is still loath to make the jump, aware that a party split would only play into the hands of their major rivals at the next elections, namely Forza Italia, the Northern League and Fratelli d’Italia on the right as well as the Five Star Movement of Beppe Grillo.

On Monday night justice minister Andrea Orlando was reportedly attempting to find middle ground between Mr Renzi and his critics, arguing against the “split” but at the same time calling for a serious analysis of Mr Renzi’s handling of the party. The situation may, or may not, become clearer following yet another party meeting on Tuesday morning.

In the meantime, a whole galaxy of non-PD leftist forces, including dissident Pippo Civati, former Renzi government minister Enrico Fassina, former mayor of Milan Giuliano Pisapia and current mayor of Naples Luigi De Magistris, are all watching closely, wondering whether they might yet coalesce into a new left-wing force.

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