Party secretary Pier Luigi Bersani was nominated as the Italian left’s prime ministerial candidate for next year’s election in a primary runoff on Sunday. His challenger, the charismatic mayor of Florence Matteo Renzi, got just 40 percent of the votes.
Bersani, once a Communist Party member who served as minister for economic development in the country’s last left-wing government, emerged as the frontrunner from last week’s first round of voting when a study published in Il Sole 24 Ore newspaper showed that Renzi would actually be the more viable general election candidate. Whereas Bersani is popular on the left, among the electorate at large, Renzi’s approval rating stood at 44 percent compared to 35 percent for the nominee.
With former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s conservative Il Popolo della Libertà slumping in opinion polls to less than half its support from the last election and incumbent premier Mario Monti set to retire next year, the left has a clear opportunity to win back control of the government.
Bersani has vowed to stick to the tough budget commitments made by Monti but seeks to soften the impact on workers and the poor and put more emphasis on economic growth.
Italy’s unemployment rate stood at over 11 percent in October and its public debt is equivalent to 126 percent of gross domestic product.
Renzi, who had embraced labor market reform and proposed a comprehensive overhaul of the Italian political system, accused the older generation of Partito Democratico leaders of failing to present a credible alternative which supposedly allowed Berlusconi’s right-wing coalition to govern for so long.
The right was due to hold its own primaries in December but amid speculation that Berlusconi will run for the nomination or establish a new political party, they have been put on hold.
Parliamentary elections can be called as early as March of next year. Preelection surveys put support for Il Popolo della Libertà at just over 18 percent compared to 25 percent for the left although an Ipsos poll last week suggested that the Partito Democratico could win as much as 32 percent of the votes.
Comedian Beppe Grillo’s Euroskeptic Five Star Movement gets 20 percent in the Ipsos poll which would make his the second largest party in parliament.