Party secretary Pier Luigi Bersani is almost certain to claim first place in the Italian opposition’s primary election on Sunday but will have to battle the charismatic mayor of Florence Matteo Renzi in a second round if he fails to win more than half of the votes.
More than three million Italians are expected to vote in the first round of the Partito Democratico‘s primary race. It is the largest left-wing party in parliament and has supported technocratic prime minister Mario Monti’s economic reforms since he replaced Silvio Berlusconi in November of last year.
Bersani, once a Communist Party member who served as minister for economic development in the country’s last left-wing government, led in a Tecne exit poll with 47 percent over 30 percent for Renzi on Sunday afternoon. But according to a study published in Il Sole 24 Ore newspaper, Renzi could win 44 percent of the votes in a general election compared to 35 percent for the presumptive nominee.
With Berlusconi’s conservative Il Popolo della Libertà slumping in opinion polls to less than half its support from the last election and Monti set to retire next year, the left has a clear opportunity to win back the prime ministership and lead the next government. Bersani, a party apparatchik who secured the endorsement of Socialist Party leader Riccardo Nencini, is perceived by many moderates as too left of center, however. Renzi, who has embraced labor market reform and proposed a comprehensive overhaul of the Italian political system, appeals to the electorate at large but is seen as too liberal by Democratic Party insiders.
The right is due to hold its own primaries in December although Secretary Angelino Alfano told reporters on Saturday that it would make little sense if Berlusconi sought the nomination again. The former prime minister, despite being embroiled in corruption and sex scandals, had said earlier in the day that he was thinking about returning to national politics.
Parliamentary elections are scheduled to be called in April of next year. An Ipsos poll that was released on Thursday put support for Berlusconi’s party at 15 percent compared to 32 percent for the Partito Democratico, the highest it has scored in opinion surveys since the start of this year but still a percentage point short of its performance in the 2008 election. Comedian Beppe Grillo’s Euroskeptic Five Star Movement gets 20 percent in the Ipsos poll which would make it the second largest party in parliament.