Italy’s Left Struggles to Take Control of Legislature

Italy’s left-wing parties are ahead in the polls but may fall short of a majority.

Secretary of the Italian Partito Democratico Pier Luigi Bersani speaks in Turin, Piedmont, August 28, 2010
Secretary of the Italian Partito Democratico Pier Luigi Bersani speaks in Turin, Piedmont, August 28, 2010 (Francesca Minonne)

Although Italy’s largest left-wing party is expected to emerge with a plurality of the votes from Sunday’s and Monday’s election, it will likely struggle to take a majority in the upper chamber of parliament where centrist parties that otherwise support the reelection of incumbent premier Mario Monti could be kingmakers.

Monti, a former European commissioner who assumed the prime ministership in late 2011 when Italy seemed to teeter on the brink of sovereign default, resigned in December when the right-wing Il Popolo della Libertà, led by his predecessor Silvio Berlusconi, pulled its support from his cabinet of unelected technocrats.

The conservatives cited a collapse in home sales as a result of a new property tax, continued economic stagnation and tepid labor market reforms that were watered down under pressure from the country’s trade unions and the left as reasons for withdrawing their support from the government.

Berlusconi has since campaigned against Monti’s economic and fiscal reforms, promising to scrap the property tax and take no orders from Berlin which he claims dictates the incumbent’s austerity program. Germany insists on fiscal consolidation and economic liberalization in the south of Europe where countries have seen their debts and borrowing costs rise in recent years, threatening the stability of the single currency.

The anti-German rhetoric appears to resonate with part of the Italian electorate. Whereas the left-wing Partito Democratico, which also backed Monti’s reform efforts, enjoyed a 15 percentage point lead in preelection polls as recently as early January, some of the latest surveys from before a ban on opinion polls went into effect showed Berlusconi’s party and the federalist Lega Nord, which propped up his previous governments, trailing by just 5 percentage points.

Partito Democratico‘s leader Pier Luigi Bersani has only to squeeze out a minor victory for the left in order to gain a majority in the lower house of parliament where the biggest party automatically gets the most seats.

In the Senate, however, winners’ bonus seats are awarded on a regional basis and the two camps are close to a draw in several battleground regions, including Lombardy and Veneto in the north which between them elect 73 senators. Berlusconi formed an alliance with the Lega Nord in order to boost support for the right there.

Bersani still has the best chance of becoming prime minister but might have to sacrifice his alliance with the far-left Sinistra Ecologia Libertà if he is to draw Senate centrists into a coalition. Sinistra Ecologia Libertà did not support Monti’s reforms and party leader Nichi Vendola has dismissed the possibility of joining a coalition that includes the incumbent premier as “fantasy politics.”

Monti, for his part, has all but ruled out a coalition with the right as long as it is led by Berlusconi. He told Italian radio last month that he had “no intention of making any agreement with parties that aren’t strongly reformist” but also said that he could “easily imagine a collaboration” with Il Popolo della Libertà if Berlusconi stepped down.

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